Rally organizers say student voices important to event

Hundreds of activist groups are planning a citywide rally on Sunday, March 19, the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The next day protestors plan to storm Sen. Ron Wyden’s office to support a group of peace delegates, who will be presenting the senator with petitions, and asking him to be a stronger antiwar leader in the Senate.

According to Dan Handelman of Peace and Justice Works, one of the main organizers of Sunday’s march and rally, the event has several “sub-themes.” They include: “Bring all the troops home now – no more blood for oil,” “end the occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, the West Bank and Gaza,” “fund education, healthcare, jobs and the environment, not war,” “military recruiters out of schools” and “respect human rights and international law – stop the torture and spying.”

Among the 145 organizations from Portland’s peace and justice community sponsoring or endorsing the event are three Portland State student groups: the PSU Progressive Student Union, PSU Socialist Party and Concerned Students of PSU.

Marchers will arrive at downtown’s Waterfront Park at 1:30 p.m., where there will be music by Marilyn Keller, Tom Grant and the Peace and Justice Singers.

“At two the rally kicks off with a speaker from Gold Star Families Speak Out, a dad whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004,” Handelman said. “Then a visiting activist from Iraq will tell the crowd her first-hand experiences working for justice under the occupation. A student will speak to counter-recruitment issues, a pastor and former Black Panther will talk about respecting human rights and international law, then keynote speaker Ramon Ramirez will rally the crowd.”

Ramirez is the president of PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, or Northwest Tree Planters and Farmworkers United), the regional farm-workers union.

The rally will be followed by a march and more music, starting at 2:30 p.m. At 3:45 “a second set of speakers will address the occupations of Afghanistan, the West Bank and Gaza and Venezuelan labor leader Luis Primo will give a brief but important talk,” Handelman said.

Handelman insisted on the importance of student involvement in this kind of activism. “Students should always take an interest in war and peace issues, particularly college age students who are likely to be first in line if there is a draft. The U.S. cannot sustain itself without militarily enforcing its economic policies, and the ranks of the armed forces are rapidly declining – the money being spent on war could be spent on human needs including education.”

“We’re hoping for 5,000 or more people to turn out on Sunday,” Handelman said. “We had about 4,500 people at a similar rally in October 2004 and since then there’s been a revitalization of the movement with the efforts of Cindy Sheehan and others bringing the war and occupation to the forefront.”

Another rally, also involving Portland State activists, is planned for noon on March 20 in Terry Shrunk Plaza. This event is part of a nationwide campaign to put more pressure on senators and congressmen to demand withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, to support a U.N.-monitored peaceful reconstruction, and to oppose the establishment of a permanent American presence in the country. The public is invited to rally in support of a group of “peace lobbyists” who will be presenting Sen. Wyden (or his representatives) with signed petitions and a call to leadership.

Nate Looney, a Portland State graduate student and activist historian, has been involved in planning Monday’s event in front of the Federal Building, which houses Wyden’s Portland office.

“We’ve written to Sen. Wyden about being a more forthright, serious leader for ending the war and his answers have been very weak,” Looney said. “He always says, ‘I voted against the war,’ but he refuses to be a real serious leader to get out of Iraq now.”

Sen. Wyden’s office was not able to comment before press time.

Looney gathered many signatures for the group’s petitions on the Portland State campus. The rally on March 20 is also supported by the PSU Progressive Student Union, and was one of the main fall projects for the now-defunct Students United for Nonviolence.

The noon rally will include speakers and a press conference. The action was organized by individuals from several Portland peace organizations, including Portland Catholic Workers, Code Pink, Oregon Peaceworks and Veterans for Peace.