Antiwar activists marked International Human Rights Day yesterday in Washington with several demonstrations that began with morning blockades of U.S. military recruitment centers and ended with a peaceful evening rally outside the offices of a group promoting the liberation of Iraq.
The demonstrations were part of a national day of protests held 54 years to the day after the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Rallies, marches and teach-ins were held at 120 locations in 37 states, from New York to North Carolina to Alaska, organizers said. Events were coordinated by United for Peace, a new coalition that includes such groups as the National Organization for Women, the National Council of Churches and Black Voices for Peace. Dozens of activists opposing a war with Iraq were arrested on charges of civil disobedience across the country, including in Washington, New York, Chicago and Oakland, Calif., organizers said.
During the morning demonstrations in the District, scuffles broke out shortly after 10:30 when six protesters who had been blocking the entrance to the Armed Forces Recruiting Center at 14th and L streets NW for an hour were arrested, D.C. police said. The activists had attempted to push their way inside. Police said they were arrested for blocking the entrances or exits of a building, a misdemeanor. No other incidents were reported.
Activists denounced the military's enlistment efforts, saying the push was targeting young people and minorities for an unjust war with Iraq. About two dozen supporters chanted slogans outside the center as the protesters blocked the doorway and D.C. police looked on. Protesters ripped up Selective Service System forms and dumped them on an antiwar banner. Earlier, they had briefly blocked the entrance of the Army National Guard recruiting office at 12th and F streets NW. The office did not open at 9 as scheduled.
"Just marching and having rallies isn't enough," said Adam Eidinger, 29, a D.C. organizer who explained why he and others were willing to be arrested. "We have to do direct action to stop these recruiters from tricking young people into fighting for oil . . . and corporate interests."
Shortly after noon, about 400 antiwar activists rallied at Farragut Square and marched past the White House to demand that the Bush administration pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iraq. The demonstration was led by groups including senior citizen activists from the Bethesda and Chevy Chase area and the District office of the American Friends Service Committee, the social service branch of the Quakers.
"Look around. See how many people are here of my age," said Alison Oldham, 73, a Montgomery County Quaker who was one of a few dozen seniors who marched in the cold. "A lot of seniors are involved in this because we've seen so much. You look back at the cemeteries in France and everywhere, and it's so sad. War is such a useless thing."
At a third rally, about 35 demonstrators gathered about 4:30 p.m. outside offices of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq on Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The organization lobbies for U.S. action to remove Saddam Hussein from power and establish a democratic government.
"As a front group for Washington's pro-war lobby, the CLI is determined to increase America's reliance on military power in conducting foreign affairs," organizer Erik Gustafson said.
On the sidewalks outside the recruiting centers in the morning, other activists -- including several college and high school students -- denounced recently enacted federal laws requiring high schools to provide military recruiters with access to students and contact information for juniors and seniors. "They have basically a captive audience," said Rae Valentine, 25, an activist with the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, part of the local coalition that organized the protest.
Military officials have said the information is used for recruiting only, does not infringe on students' privacy and could counter a decline in the number of people who inquire about enlisting.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m., both centers remained closed. But Dave Fitz, a Navy district recruiting spokesman, said that though the front doors were locked, Navy recruiting went on inside. "We continued on with our mission," he said. "We're in service to our country to protect the rights of these people to express themselves."
Staff writers Monte Reel and Elaine Rivera contributed to this report.