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Chicago participates in 3rd National Day of Peace Response

About 200 hundred people rallied and marched in the Chicago Loop Friday evening, against the war in Afghanistan and the U.S. government's attacks on civil liberties at home.
The action was the third in a trilogy of monthly National Days of Peace Response, the first of which - October 7 - happened to coincide with the beginning of U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

Organized by Peace Response, a coalition whose members include the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), with the participation of the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism (CCAWR), Friday's demonstration revolved around the theme "What Is Security?" With this focus organizers hoped to highlight the hypocrisy of the Bush administration's "Homeland Security" program, in light of eroding civil liberties and the profound lack of security in the lives of people who are homeless in the U.S., or under attack and forced into refugee situations in Afghanistan. To dramatize this message, protesters were asked to come wrapped in blankets - a visual reference to homelessness and refugee status, as well as a symbolic reference to "security blankets." The blankets were collected at the end of the event, and will be donated to relief organizations for both Afghan refugees and Chicago's homeless.

The event began with a rally in Pritzker Park, on the corner of State and Van Buren, where several speakers addressed the crowd. A march then proceeded up State Street, around Federal Plaza, and down Dearborn to Grace Place, where the AFSC offices are housed, and where the march culminated in a few more brief speeches. Speakers addressed such topics as peace as an Islamic value, the position of women in Afghanistan, and the history of civil liberties infringements in the U.S. during wartime.

Members of other Chicago activist groups opposed to the war, including the Chicago Direct Action Network (DAN) and Food Not Bombs, were specifically invited by organizers to join in and plan activities for the event. This move on the part of Peace Response and CCAWR perhaps signals a growing imperative on the part of more liberal antiwar groups in the city to reach out to more radical groups, with whom they have had tactical disagreements, but who share an antiwar, pro-civil liberties, and anti-racism stance. That CCAWR worked with Peace Response in organizing the event may also indicate a growing commitment within Chicago's antiwar movement to addressing the fracturing and factionalism with which it's been struggling.

Members of Chicago DAN, the group that called the September 18 community antiwar forum out of which CCAWR formed, responded to this outreach by supplying the demonstration with diverse forms of visual impact. Marchers played the role of "pallbearers" carrying a black coffin with "Afghanistan" printed on its side, while a large, mournful-looking puppet wore a sign that said "7 million people of Afghanistan." These props and other puppets were asked to lead off the march. A series of graphic red signs painted with large white question marks asked a series of questions about the issue of security, such as, "Does jailing immigrants make you feel secure?"; "Does CNN make you feel secure?"; "Is starving Afghanistan terrorism?"; and "Hey! Isn't this about oil again?"

During the rally, some members of DAN and other activists used a video projector to screen recent news footage of Afghanistan taken from Al Jazeera, an Arabic-language news service whose offices in Afghanistan were destroyed by U.S. bombs. The footage, superimposed with brief English summaries of the Arabic text, was projected in a frame the size of a movie screen, on the side of a building adjoining Pritzker Park. Protesters as well as passersby and rush-hour commuters waiting on the El platform along Van Buren watched Al Jazeera's footage of Red Cross buildings engulfed in flames, civilians running from their homes as U.S. bombs leveled them, injured civilians in Afghan hospitals in the wake of the bombings, and other images that the U.S. corporate media has consistently edited out. Media activists screening the footage hoped to drive home the message that the U.S. government does not want its citizens to see this imagery.

Meanwhile, Food Not Bombs Chicago served free vegetarian food to protesters and passersby near the park entrance, further dramatizing the connection between wars that create refugees, and a government seeking to expand its military budget indefinitely while ignoring hunger and poverty among its own populace.

Responses from passersby seemed generally positive as the march slowly made its way through the Loop on the sidewalks. The march was largely conducted in silence save for the slow, steady beating of drums carried by some protesters, which lent the action the feeling of a somber funeral procession. This air of silence was temporarily disrupted, however, when the march traveled past the district courthouse on the east edge of Federal Plaza. Immediately inside the plate glass windows of the building's lobby, protesters noticed several white men in suits giving some sort of a press conference. While no one seemed to know what the press conference was for, marchers nonetheless took advantage of bright lights and about five television cameras aimed in the direction of the street. The entire march remained stopped outside the courthouse for about 10 minutes, as protesters held their signs and props up to windows, screamed antiwar chants, shook noisemakers, and some banged on the glass. A few of the camera people seemed immediately to turn their lenses on the action taking place behind their intended subjects. The march soon continued down Dearborn, but a few protesters remained behind attempting disruption of the press conference. This was the only instance of direct confrontation during the otherwise uneventful march.

The march was smaller than hoped, and seemed somewhat depressed and unenthusiastic in its overall energy. Some activists expressed frustration at the antiwar movement's apparent inability to grow beyond the same small group who reliably show up for demos. On the other hand, at a time of such global and local *in*security, the dirge-like tenor of the action seemed in some ways appropriate. And in the best possible light, that a wide range of antiwar groups, representing a diversity of ideological and tactical approaches, were able to participate successfully in this action may signal a turning point in Chicago-based resistance to the war and the erosion of civil liberties.




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