Thursday, March 22, 2007

Boston Area Activists Unite Across Neighborhoods To Protest War

Activist organizations from across Massachusetts have united under the umbrella March 24 Coalition to organize a demonstration against the war in Iraq this Saturday.

In addition to protesting the Iraq War, organizers intend to spread awareness on the war in Afghanistan and the possibly pending invasion of Iran.

Featuring prominent speakers such as nationally recognized anti-war activist and military mother Cindy Sheehan, best-selling author and Boston University Professor Emeritus Howard Zinn, as well as Eljeer Hawkins, Klare Allen, and Rostam Pourzalt, the demonstration also promises an eclectic mix of musical acts and a “peace and justice fair,” which organizers claim will provide children with entertainment as well as anti-war education through puppet shows, games, drum circles and literature.

The March 24 Coalition formed following a call to action by the Greater Boston Stop the Wars Coalition, and the March 24 demonstration has since been endorsed by over 40 activist groups, including United for Justice with Peace, Boston ANSWER, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and SEIU Local 1199. Organizers of all stripes and ages have signed up for the cause.

Stop the Wars co-founder and demonstration organizer John Harris of Chelsea intends to keep the momentum going.

Veteran activist and organizer Elisabeth Leonard of East Boston concurred. Having marched on the Pentagon during Vietnam, Leonard said she sees light at the end of the tunnel.

“I think more and more people are opposed to this war,” she said, “and it’s building. People I never would have thought would oppose it are doing 180 degree turns - my family, people I’ve known for years.”

Leonard expects an excellent turnout at the event.

“We’re hoping for 5,000,” she said, “and I think we can do it.”

How? The protest itself has changed, Leonard said.

“I’ve been with Stop the Wars and we’ve put on three or four of different demonstrations like this, and it was usually young people and lots of noisy bands,” she said. “There weren’t as many older people. This one is a lot more integrated.”

The integration comes from the difference in theme. Unlike the usually politicized speeches, followed by a march, this rally will include a plethora of events within itself, some of which Leonard insists will be “pure entertainment.”

Elaborating on how they intend to draw new faces into the process, Leonard said, “I think the fact that we’re having a good program and that we are having a peace and justice carnival kind of thing is going to be very exciting - including kids for the first time. I think that’s really exciting.”

And if the turnout isn’t what they hope for, Leonard and her colleagues insist that the very process of organizing is a victory for the cause. Throughout the entire meeting, everything was ultimately agreed upon by consensus.

“That all of us are working together is very good,” she said. “We haven’t even voted on anything.”

In addition to the protest, the Coalition has schedules a fundraise for on March 23 at the Central Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain, which will feature speeches by Cindy Sheehan, City Councilor Felix Arroyo, and 2006 Green-Rainbow Candidate for Governor Grace Ross.

The fundraiser starts at 8 p.m. and costs $10. The subsequent protest will take place on Boston Common the following day, March 24, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This story was originally published in The Boston Bulletin on March 22, 2007.

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