This story originally appeared in Peoples Dispatch on March 20, 2023. It is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.
On March 18, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, over 2,500 people representing over 200 organizations gathered in front of the White House to protest the latest war drive: the escalation and prolongation of the war in Ukraine.
The Iraq invasion and the US’s central role as an aggressor on the world stage could not be more related to the Russia–Ukraine war, speakers argued.
“[The warmongers] want you to somehow think that it’s progressive, that it’s good, that it’s morally right to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fight to the last Ukrainian,” said Eugene Puryear of BreakThrough News, opening the rally. “For what? Just for the ability of the United States government to control the whole world!”
After rallying, demonstrators displayed coffins emblazoned with the flags of Iraq, Russia, Palestine, Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, the US, and Syria, representing the lives lost as a result of the US war drive, at the gates outside of the White House. Ellen Barfield of Veterans for Peace addressed demonstrators outside of the White House. “Veterans, we have seen victims, we have caused victims I’m afraid to say,” she said. “People are hungry and suffering in this country because more than 50% of our discretionary budget every year is thrown at the Pentagon, for weapons that don’t work, for idiotic wars that make us less safe.”
“Sadly, the general public worships troops, so they listen to us,” Ellen Barfield of Veterans for Peace, who was active in opposing the Iraq War, told Peoples Dispatch during the starting rally on March 18. “We use our status. And that’s what Veterans for Peace is all about, it’s about supporting each other in doing a better job of trying to educate the public about the real costs of war, not only to us, but to them too, to the whole world.”
The March 18 demonstration sought to unite various people’s struggles within the umbrella of the anti-war movement. Riya Ortiz of Damayan Migrant Workers addressed the crowd to speak about the struggle of Filipina labor trafficking survivors. In conversation with Peoples Dispatch, Ortiz expanded on the link between anti-imperialism and Filipina struggle: “The reason that [Filipina workers] were getting trafficked is because the U.S. ravaged our home country, we don’t have our own heavy basic industry, and basically the main commodity of the country are our people.”
Reverend Annie Chambers, a former Black Panther and an activist since the age of 14 (and is now 81), spoke at the rally about the poor and dispossessed of the United States. “We’re here talking about peace. But do you know where you live at? You live in the United States of America,” she declared during her speech.
“How can we talk about peace? And we have our very own people starving in the street. Cutting off the food stamps. Cutting off of social aid. Homelessness,” she continued. “Only the needy suffer when we fight for the greedy.”
Demonstrators then marched, coffins and banners in hand, to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church for a teach-in, a location famous for hosting one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermons. The march also stopped briefly at the Washington Post to publicly condemn the pro-war messaging of the corporate media, highlighting the fundamental role it has played in swaying public opinion in support of military spending and wars. At the teach-in, speakers discussed social movements and anti-imperialist struggle in regions as diverse as Haiti, Eritrea, Syria, Guam, water protectors in Hawaii, and anti-fascists in Ukraine.
“This is an event that [warmongers] didn’t even want to happen,” said Eugene Puryear. “The powers that be…none of them want this to be out here. They want people to be confused.” The share of people in the US who believe that the country is sending too much aid to Ukraine has grown, and although most support sending aid to Ukraine in general, only a minority support increasing US troop deployments overseas.
“This is a proxy war, but it’s a dress rehearsal for bigger war that the US intends to wage to weaken Russia, to topple it’s government, to go to war and have confrontation with China, to topple the Communist Party of China,” said Brian Becker at the rally in front of the White House. “We’re determined, we’re gonna build a new movement. This movement is not ending today, this movement is beginning today.”