Three thousand demonstrators gathered in Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, on Thursday for a spirited anti-war and anti-Wall St. protest.
On the tenth anniversary of the Afghan War, they demanded that Obama bring the troops home now.
Carl and Sue Miller came down from Pennsylvania for the rally. “We want the troops out of Afghanistan,” Carl said. “We have two sons in the army, and we’re proud as hell of both of them.” Their oldest, 28, is an officer in Afghanistan right now. “It’s not the right time,” he said. “It’s not the right place.” Mary said Obama “is not holding up to what he’s saying.” While he said he was withdrawing troops from there, he was also redeploying some troops there, like her son, she explained. She said it’s “extremely” difficult to think about her son in harm’s way.
Though the protest was initially planned primarily as an anti-war rally, much of the energy in the crowd was focused on Wall Street greed. David Barrows, 64, dressed in a top hat and wearing a pig nose, held a sign that said, “Brother, can you spare a billion?” He sang new lyrics to the tune of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” which included: “We are just too big to fail/Just try to put us in jail. Billionaires are coming soon.”
Mary Shesgreen, 70, came from Elgin, Illinois, representing the Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice. She was carrying a sign that said, “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed.” “I’m just alarmed and appalled and frightened by the consolidation of corporate power and wealth of the top one-half of 1 percent,” she said. They’re trying to strip away the rest of the social safety net, crush unions, and destroy the public sector.” Simone Evans-Blango, 33, of Washington, D.C., carried a sign that said, “I Will Believe Corporations Are People When Georgia Executes One.”
She was referring both to the execution of Troy Davis and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision. “My main concern is where we’ve allowed corporations to take us,” she said. I’m a mother, I’m a wife, I have $90,000 in school debt, and I can’t find a job. It’s not working for me right now.”
Andrea, 34, who wouldn’t give her last name, held a sign that said: “Another Single Mother in Foreclosure: Thank You, Bank of America.” After she went through a divorce and had her hours cut at her job, she fell behind on her payments. She tried to get help from the Obama Administration’s program designed to help people facing foreclosure, but to no avail.
“They set up the program to help people like me,” she says, “and they denied me.” The program began at noon, preceded first by a parade of about 300 members of Veterans for Peace and then by the Wisconsin contingent, 30 strong, marching to the front. “Let’s hear it for Wisconsin,” said Kevin Zeese, one of the organizers. “They started this.”
Mike Malloy, who hosts a nationally syndicated progressive talk radio program, emceed the event and gave a rousing speech. “Because of the corporate state’s addiction to war, a new generation is facing a future of no jobs, massive debt, a deteriorating climate, and the prospect of endless war,” he said. He denounced the greed of Wall Street and the corporate class. “They want it all,” he said. “There is only one answer to these corporate thugs: Go fuck yourselves.” And he warned them: “Mr. Capitalist, Miss Corporatist, the passivity is over. Your greed and your stupidity is going to be met head on. Be afraid, corporatists. Be very afraid.”
Folksinger David Rovics came on soon afterwards and didn’t spare Barack Obama. “You can say you’re a man of the people, but you don’t fool me,” Rovics sang. “You can say you’re a man of peace, but you don’t fool me.” Poet Ron Williams led the crowd in repeated chants of “Silence Is for Suckers.” Ashley Sanders, one of the organizers of the e vent, took the stage and said, “Capitalism is not inevitable. Capitalism is weak. Capitalism can be defeated.” Dick Gregory came on, one week before his 80th birthday, and got the crowd to laugh when he said, “You know you’re old when someone compliments you on your alligator shoes and you’re not wearing any.” And he urged everyone to “be like a turtle: hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and willing to stick your neck out.”
He told the crowd: “You have already won. You’ve given people hope who didn’t have any.”
When Kevin Zeese spoke, he said the United States is “the biggest empire in the world’s history, and the empire is not good for us, and it’s not good for the world. Zeese then ridiculed the corporate media for failing to get the message and for criticizing protesters for not having specific demands. “What we want is very clear,” he said. “We want an end to corporate rule.”
When the speeches were over, Jodie Evans of Code Pink organized the crowd to form the shape of the figure 99% so that those filming from many floors up would get a good picture. The tactic worked because I saw that picture on the news this morning.
Then the crowd marched past the White House and on to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, blocking traffic out front for a half hour. Protesters put up a huge sign that said “Greedy” right below the chamber’s banner that read “Brought to You by American Free Enterprise.”Another sign said, “Not Too Big to Jail.”
The crowd proceeded down K Street, chanting, “We Are the 99%.” Doormen and people waiting for buses cheered the crowd on. The march returned to Freedom Plaza, where many of the demonstrators spent the night. The protest continues today and through the weekend.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Wall St. Protesters Show the Way"
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