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October 2001
Rapid Deployment: New York City Peace Movement Hits the Streets

By John Tarleton



New York—An eclectic grassroots movement against war and racism is emerging in the heart of this traumatized city.

On September 21st between 6,000 and 7,000 people marched against war from Union Square to Times Square. As of this writing, it was the largest anti-war rally since the September 11th attacks. Meeting halls in Lower Manhattan and Midtown have been packed to overflowing with community activists. When not together in person, they are organizing frenetically online. Teach-ins have sprung up on campuses around the city. A September 14th candlelight vigil for peace in Union Square drew several thousand people, and a rally against violence toward Arabs was held at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Roughly 700-800 people were on hand.

“Whenever we go out with signs, people say ‘thank you very much,’” said Kevin Skvorak, a longtime peace activist. “I think the American people are hugely receptive. People are starting to question American policies. They are hungry to find answers for why this happened and they are getting nothing from the media.”

The anti-war movement is nourished by both a deep unease with president Bush’s open-ended promise to “rid the world of evildoers” as well as a desire to end the cycle of violence that took such a devastating toll on the city.

“Your [violent] response to this attack does not make us feel better about our son’s death. It makes us feel worse,” Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez wrote in a letter to Bush. Their son Greg was one of the World Trade Center victims. “It makes us feel that our government is using our son’s memory as a justification to cause suffering for other sons and parents in other lands. It is not the first time a person in your position has been given unlimited power and came to regret it.”

Two large networks of local activists have formed since September 11th. Mostly younger anti-corporate globalization activists have been meeting at the CHARAS/El Bohio community center on the Lower East Side. They organized the September 14th peace vigil with two days’ notice and then the following morning 45 activists fanned out through Manhattan, from the Lower East Side to Midtown to Spanish Harlem, to leaflet and talk with people about their concerns. Several days later, a smaller group went out to Astoria in Queens.

“This is the dirty work we have to do. We can’t just sit in a penthouse and speculate on what people are doing,” said Ayca, one of the street team organizers. “When you raise a question mark when everything is so absolute, it’s important.”

“We are at a turning point,” said Ray LaForest of Haitian Constituency USA, Inc. “We have a challenge in front of us. We have to sink or swim.” LaForest then added, “This is the final installment of the coup. We have a president who wasn’t chosen by democratic means. And now, he’s getting worldwide powers.”

Anti-war organizing is also springing up in other cities around the country as well as in Canada, Europe and Australia. Two thousand three hundred people marched against the war in Portland, Oregon on September 16th. Demonstrations of 300-500 people took place in Concord and Fresno, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and Austin, Texas.

“This peace movement is being deeply informed by the anti-globalization movement which is talking about economic justice as a part of global peace,” said Carmen Trotta, an executive committee member of the War Resisters League, a pacifist organization that was founded in 1923 by World War I conscientious objectors. “The peace movement needs to be thinking about more than the events of September 11th. I think there’s hope for that with the tie-in from the anti-globalization movement...It suggests a peace movement that could have greater depth than ever before.”

Formerly a news and sports reporter at several daily newspapers, John Tarleton is a freelance writer, migrant farm worker and human rights activist. Read more articles by him at The full version of this article can also be found at, the Web site of the New York City Independent Media Center.


Web Sites for Peace Activism

Peace activism & events worldwide:

Network of online activism with forums & petitions:

Posters For Peace, free posters to download & print: www.postersfor

Students Transforming and Resisting Corporations, nonviolent group for social change:

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