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March 20: Portland's March and Rally Draws 12,000, Ties Communities and Issues Together

By Dan Handelman, Peace and Justice Works

The city of Portland, Oregon witnessed one of its largest peace and social justice rallies ever on Saturday, March 20 as over 120 organizations bonded together behind the banner "The World Still Says No To War." While organizers expected between 2000 and 5000 participants, low estimates (the Oregonian, below) were 6000 and high estimates were 15,000...tripling the projected numbers. Based on the length of the march at its most compact (7 city blocks) organizers estimate probably 12,000 people attended Portland's call for this global day of action against war and occupation.

In a great show of solidarity, the young and old, churches, labor unions, peace groups, environmental activists, GLBTQ organizers, and thousands of others joined their many voices to show opposition to the war on Iraq, one year later. Other themes included "Fund Jobs, Education and Health Care, Not War; End US Support of Israel's Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; and Defend Civil Liberties - Repeal the USA Patriot Act."

Leading off both the rally and the march were Veterans and military moms. Northwest Veterans for Peace founding member Marv Simmons reminded people of his musically borrowed call from 13 years ago, "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" Anne Haley, whose son was taken out of graduate school to go back into active duty in Iraq, expressed her anger at the irony -- her son has been taken out of school to go to war while President Bush avoided war by going to school. Hurley is affiliated with Military Families Speak Out, a national group. Tina Tierson, whose son was killed in Operation Desert Shield in 1990 as the U.S. geared up for its first major assault on Iraq, asked the crowd to remember all the sons and daughters whose lives are now on the line. Deb Hedding, a Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran, and Grant Remington, both of Veterans for Peace Chapter 72, shared their thoughts of the need to bring the troops home and the cynical reasons the administration sent them to Iraq in the first place.

Keynote speaker Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, the NW Farmworkers' union, and Laurie King, the event host who is with Jobs with Justice and Jews for Global Justice, both emphasized the importance of tying issues together. Ramirez pointed out the hypocrisy of wealthy congresspeople, none of whom have children serving in the Gulf, referring to "our troops." "Those are our people!" shouted Ramirez to an appreciative crowd. "Working people down there! People of color! Immigrants! Those are our people that are fighting!"

The march took off from a tightly packed Pioneer Courthouse Square at roughly 1:45 PM, taking over 70 minutes for just the front end to return from the 34-block route.

Along the march, Palestinian-American Hala Gores stood beside the Oregonian building to criticize U.S. support for Israeli policies in the occupied territories. Barbara Dudley, a PSU professor, addressed the current administration's attack on civil liberties in front of the Federal Courthouse. Nancy Gonzalez of SEIU 49, which is fighting for a union contract with building management at the Commonwealth Building in downtown Portland, stood by that building demanding justice and shouting "No a la guerra!" Jack Mulcahy,