On Saturday, Jan. 27, four Geneseo students joined thousands of people at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in one of the largest anti-war protest movements since the start of the war in Iraq. These students include sophomore music major Noah Dreiblatt, sophomore international relations major Julian Fenn, junior biochemistry major Colin Waters, and sophomore Rob Mamanno.
The generally peaceful demonstration was composed of people from across the nation. Speeches were given by a number of politicians and other well-known figures including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Representatives Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Maxine Walters (D-Ca.), and actors Jane Fonda, Susan Surandon and Tim Robbins.
"I had heard that this was going to be the biggest protest since the start of the war, and I wanted to continue to uphold my social obligation to voice my dissent," Dreiblatt explained. "Democracy becomes a meaningless word, thrown around in inaugural addresses and State of the Union speeches, used to manipulate the actions of the masses, when political leaders time and time again ignore the will of the people."
Although there was a varied demographic, Fenn noticed that "most minorities seemed completely under-represented." In addition to the high volume of U.S. veterans, Washington saw a wide range of ages. According to New York Times reports, some younger protesters were wearing shirts with negative depictions of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. One man, dressed as Abraham Lincoln and on 30-inch stilts, carried a sign that read, "But you can't fool all the people all of the time."
Demonstrators expressed anti-war sentiment and many felt a more personal passion because of family members or friends currently in Iraq. "I went because I have four friends in Iraq right now and they want to come home!" exclaimed Fenn. "I phoned my best friend from home the other day and he told me about how he had to shoot a 12-year-old boy who was carrying a detonation device. I went [to the protest] because kids our age shouldn't be forced to make decisions like that and live with it for the rest of their lives," Fenn claimed.
Small numbers of anti-protesters gathered in the mall as well, but were a less noticeable presence. Capitol police kept the groups separate to try to reduce tension and prevent violence.
The demonstration remained peaceful throughout the day. "I'd never been to a demonstration with so little conflict between the police and the protesters," Dreiblatt noticed. "Everybody walked in a straight line, and nobody challenged the barricades."
In reaction to Geneseo students attending the demonstration, Geneseo political science professor Marilyn Klotz stated "I think it's really good political engagement; a good experience to have."
The official number of people at the protests was unclear. United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), a coalition of over 1300 advocacy groups, claimed numbers were upwards of 400,000. Police say the turnout was closer to 100,000, while other organizers estimate 250,000 attendees.
UFPJ, largely responsible for the organization of the protest, claims to work "to turn the tide; to overwhelm war with peace." A few days before the protest, UFPJ co-chair Judith LeBlanc explained, "We have a Congress that is listening, with many members who were elected because the war is a critical issue for their constituents. We must act; we must be in the streets; we must make real the mandate for peace.”