United for Peace

An estimated 10,000 anti-war protesters converge on the Capitol.

Attending Saturday's rally and march at the Capitol against the war in Iraq, an estimated 10,000 locals joined millions of people around the world (from Antarctica to Amarillo) in advocating patience and peace as tangible alternatives to haste and violence. Sure, in attendance were the usual drum-beating troupes, neo-hippies, and retro-hippies, but the diversity of the crowd illustrated that this was no average protest.

Many in the crowd were "average citizens," who waved their own homemade signs as passionately as the most seasoned activists. Some had never before attended a march and, like Austin resident Neeraj Tulsian, were protest newbies. Tulsian says he had never demonstrated against anything until August, when he concluded that the U.S. government was terrorizing the world community as well as its own citizens. He worries that one day the U.S. government will decide it doesn't approve of the government in his home country of India and declare it a rogue nation. "I'm not an outsider -- I'm a citizen," he said. "If I don't speak up, who else is?"

Echoing Tulsian's concern about an endless U.S. war on everyone was Lisa Krebs of the Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice, which helped organize last week's walk-out at UT that drew at least 3,000 demonstrators. "Anyone want to guess what country is next?" she asked. "When does this end? Are we going to be back here year after year?" Also contemplating the long-term future was environmental activist Erin Rogers, who asserted that the 600,000 pounds of depleted uranium ammunition the U.S. left in Iraq and Kuwait after the Gulf War -- some of which may have originated in Texas -- will take four billion years to deactivate. Aside from posing a devastating threat to the environment, world stability, and the lives of both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers, the war presents Rogers with another source of anxiety: Her brother is stationed in Qatar. "[He] may be forced to become a mass murderer," she said, holding up a poster of her sibling as she spoke from the podium. "I am here because I love my brother and I believe it is our world, and that we can stop this war."

Of course, Austin's U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has been a point man trying to lay roadblocks against Bush's war. He told the crowd, "Duct tape and plastic sheeting will provide the same protection as 'duck and cover,' ... Let us do what will really make us safe -- being patriots for peace."

After the march, demonstrators filed down Congress Avenue to the bridge, where the mingling and peace-promoting continued. Though a few locals staged a pro-Bush counter-demonstration, the sheer emotional intensity of Saturday's rally gave one the impression that W.'s professed desire to become a "uniter," not a "divider" entailed uniting the world against him and his chicken-hawk administration's boundary-free war on terrorism. "This is only a beginning, people," UT journalism professor/rally emcee Bob Jensen energetically told the crowd. "This is the start, not the end. ... Maybe it will be 50,000 next time." It didn't seem like hyperbole.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

George W. Bush, protest, peace rally, Erin Rogers, Lisa Krebs, Bob Jensen, Campus Coalition for Peace and Justice, Neeraj Tulsian

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