September 24, 2005 saw the first major American antiwar demonstration since the United States invaded Iraq. The largest march was in Washington, D.C.; while officials declined to make an official estimate of the crowd, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the crowd exceeded the 100,000 expected; march organizers said more than 300,000 were present. Thousands of people also marched in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and other cities in the United States, and in London.
The march was a cross-section of America, including young and old, active and veteran military, military families, long-time peace activists, and even a smattering of Republicans disenchanted with Bush administration policy.
Although the September 24 march was the most conspicuous part of a three-day program of events, the less-visible events may contain the seeds of sustained action.
On September 26, 1,000 demonstrators marched to the White House and requested a meeting with the president. When the request was denied, several hundred sat down on the sidewalk. After three warnings, police began arresting the demonstrators, starting with Cindy Sheehan. Four and a half hours later, 370 people were in custody, charged with demonstrating without a permit.
The same day, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and Progressive Democrats of America co-sponsored “Lobby Day,” when 800-1,000 people representing 40 states met with 300 senators and representatives. Bill Dobbs of UFPJ points out that congressional support for the war has been bipartisan since the beginning; ending the war requires increased pressure on Congress.
The resurgence of a visible movement against the Iraq war is the product of multiple factors. UFPJ and International ANSWER put out calls in March for a September 24 demonstration. At the time, says Dobbs, support for the war was still strong nationwide. Over the summer, however, a series of events began to erode support: the release of the Downing Street memos, which showed that the Bush administration was set on war from the beginning; the electrifying appearance of British MP George Galloway before the U.S. Senate; and Hurricane Katrina's dramatic illustration of the true cost of the war to emergency preparedness.
But the most visible cause of the change in the public mood is one person: Cindy Sheehan. The gold-star mother, whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, held a 26-day vigil outside George Bush's vacation ranch, seeking to ask him a single question: what is the “noble cause” for which Bush claims her son died. Sheehan and her supporters were widely covered in the media; she put a human face on questions about the war.
Dobbs anticipates major demonstrations around the March 20 anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. But he emphasizes that the backbone of the peace movement is not the big demonstrations; it's the local groups getting out information, keeping up pressure on elected officials, and carrying forward the work of ending the war.