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Protest Agenda Makes Antiwar Switch

Response: A Saturday rally in Washington originally aimed at the World Bank and IMF will now focus on Bush's assault on terrorism.


WASHINGTON — With polls showing that the vast majority of Americans support military action against terrorism, organizers of an antiwar rally planned here Saturday have a difficult task ahead.

The protesters, many of whom had been planning massive demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings originally set for this weekend, shifted their focus when the events were canceled after the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. Several of the organizations regrouped to form a coalition called International ANSWER, or Act Now to Stop War & End Racism.

Noting surveys that indicate nearly 90% of Americans back U.S. military strikes, protest organizer Brian Becker said: "We represent 20 million to 27 million people [who oppose a war] . . . and thousands of them will be here Saturday. We don't base ourselves on polls, but on principle."

Although the IMF and World Bank protests had been expected to draw thousands to the nation's capital, it was unclear how many would turn out for the antiwar effort.

The noon rally will begin at Lafayette Park near the White House and finish at the Capitol.

Coalition Hopes to Curb Bloodshed

But given the horror of the Sept. 11 attacks and the loss of more than 6,000 lives on U.S. soil, demonstrators critical of Bush's approach to terrorism run the risk of looking "as if they are against America," said Steve Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan Washington think tank. "This is not the moment to be against America."

Unlike the Vietnam War protests that gained momentum during the height of combat, this swift antiwar reaction, coalition members hope, will help curb government actions that could lead to further bloodshed.

From students and lawyers to Catholic and Muslim leaders, the diverse group of ANSWER members at Monday's news conference offered a unified message: Violence is not the answer to violence. Racial profiling and hate crimes against Arab Americans or Muslims are not acceptable. And an international peace conference is needed to identify the sources of terrorism and the causes of anti-American sentiment.

"Unless we get at the sources and causes of all forms of terrorism," said Damu Smith, a peace activist, "we will never get to the root cause of why people decided in some insane way to smash planes into buildings and kill themselves and thousands of others."

Coalition members, such as former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, warned that any changes in foreign policy that lead to a "war without limits" may cause more fatalities in the United States and the Middle East. Feelings of outrage have masked the sense of what is right, organizers said.

"Why would we kill people who haven't killed people, just to show that killing people is wrong?" asked activist Vanessa Dixon.

But the protesters will need a strong--and orderly--showing to make any dent in public opinion.

"It's more than just numbers," Hess said, "but what [protesters] look like, what they are shouting and how unruly they are." Violence or disrespect shown toward law enforcement officers will not win support, he said, at a time when police and firefighters are viewed by many Americans as heroes.

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