Junior joins thousands in DC march calling for immediate end to Iraq War

By Willa Simmet 2008

Here we are, three teenagers from Iowa, in the heart of an estimated 100,000 people who have come from across the country to call for an end to the war in Iraq.

I look behind me, across a sea of signs and into the eyes of a young Latino girl with long flowing brown hair, wearing a hat that says, “pas ahora” which translates to “peace now.” We smile and my eyes take me to the Washington Monument, sticking straight out of the ground as voices cheering for peace bounce off it.

It’s midmorning and the sun is shining down on the crowd of people stretching in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. I look next to me and see a women holding a wooden stick with a line of attached paper cranes. Her head is bowed as if in prayer, as if she is trying to absorb and remember each sight, sound and smell.

Twelve-year-old Moriah Arnold from Massachusetts excites the crowd of anxious people who are holding signs that say things like “give peace a chance” and “save a tree, remove a bush”. The child stands on the stage calling our nation’s leaders liars and asking Congress to do something about this unnecessary war that makes us look like a bully to the rest of the world.

Along with Arnold, celebrities, lawmakers and representatives from organizations such as United for Peace and Justice, organizer of the rally, each take their turn revving the crowd before we make our way to the streets.

Brenda Hervet of Sioux City, a member of Military Families Speak Out, said her stepson Michael was seriously injured in Iraq and is recovering in Germany. Because of the troop surge, he will have to return to Iraq. She said the most supportive thing Congress could do for her son is not fund the war.

“Not one more dime, not one more day,” Hervet shouted.

Ra’ed Jarrar, an Iraqi citizen and project director for Global Exchange Iraq, said Iraqis want their country back.

“We want the occupation to end now,” Jarrar said. “We don’t need someone from overseas to protect us. We know how to rule our country ourselves. We want the troops to go home.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. “We need a war on poverty at home, not a war on religion in Iraq. It’s time to build. It’s time to heal.”

A group of young people from Ohio come rushing up to us, commenting on how much they love our signs which said things like, “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind,” and “You Can Bomb the World into Pieces, but You Can’t Bomb the World into Peace.” We share our thoughts, trying to express everything we are feeling about the day in a few short sentence. We discuss how awesome all of this is, to be surrounded by so many people who understand things the way we understand them. It’s as if we have all migrated to some sort of homeland. This unity is what grabbed me and filled me with so much joy.

During the 22-hour bus ride to Washington, I met John Paul Hornbeck, a 25-year-old artist from Iowa City. He dressed like up George Bush, including a mask. He and a friend carried a sculpture he made of the World Trade Center during the march. The Twin Towers were made of chicken wire and covered with little plastic soldiers. His hat was covered with plastic soldiers too.

When he found out I was a high school student, he was so taken aback that he spent several hours telling me about his art and feelings on the war. His father, a Vietnam veteran, has suffered ever since from post traumatic stress. Growing up in a family affected by the Vietnam War has shaped his art work, which is influenced by combat photography.

The news media is no longer able to show these images, but Hornbeck believes people need to see the horror of war that soldiers experience.

Hornbeck spent four years in the military. “I feel like my carrying my buddies with me from the battlefield, the ones wounded, the ones neglected by our society,” he said about the sculpture he carried during the protest.

Finally it is our turn to surround the Capitol. Women in long, flowing skirts and men dressed in colorful clothes beat on drums, upside down buckets and cooking pots. A couple in front of me dances as the street is filled with echoes of words for peace.

Several men and women on stilts are cheered on by other protesters. A young girl has climbed a tree and is leading a cheer. As she perches there in her pink pants and curly hair, she screams, “What do we want.” Her father and several others from down below call back at her, “Peace!”

“When do we want it?”

“Now,” they holler back.

After the march my friends and I collapse, smiling, on the grass in front of the Washington Monument. We roll down Capitol Hill, and after becoming firmly planted again, discuss the purpose of the march. We want Congress to pass H.R. 508, the Bring the Troops Home and Iraqi Restoration Act.

The bill would bring the troops home in six months and provide economic aid and a framework for stability in Iraq.

I think Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United For Peace and Justice, said it best: “We are all ages, come from all walks of life and all regions of the country, rural and urban.We are united in our determination to bring the troops home now and attend to the desperately neglected problems here in our country.”

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