CHICAGO – A spirited crowd of 300 demonstrators braved the bitter cold here to protest President Bush’s drive toward war with Iraq. The occasion was Bush’s presence before an audience of cheering businessmen at the elite Economic Club of Chicago on Jan. 7 where he announced his $675 billion economic stimulus plan.

“Bush don’t get it, we ain’t with it,” declared Rene Maxwell, president of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. Maxwell demanded the Bush administration use the money being wasted on war to solve the growing crisis in affordable housing. “The people of Chicago are not with you,” he said, noting that thousands of families in public housing are being forced from their homes and threatened with homelessness.

The crowd gathered in what was dubbed the “first amendment zone,” a reference to the penned in area near the Sheraton Hotel in sight of the long line of well-heeled investors waiting to get into the luncheon.

Protesters, many carrying signs that said, “Peace is the best security” and “War and tax cuts for profiteers: we can’t afford Bush,” also attacked the threat to civil liberties posed by the Bush administration. Plans were announced to rally at the INS office later in the week in response to mass detentions of immigrant workers nationwide.

Andy Thayer of the Chicago Committee Against War and Racism urged an outpouring of calls to aldermen to support an anti-war resolution currently before the Chicago City Council. Twenty-eight of 50 aldermen support the resolution but as always the position of Mayor Richard Daley is decisive. The vote is scheduled for Jan. 16.

“This war is not inevitable. We must raise every voice for peace,” said Thayer.

Several speakers noted the growing sentiments for a peaceful solution to the confrontation with Iraq including in suburban Chicago communities.

“We live in one of the most conservative areas,” said Libby Papparado of the McHenry County Peace Coalition. “The response to vigils has been very positive and we’re going to keep going.” McHenry County, north of Chicago, has some of the nation’s wealthiest communities.

“Over 70 percent of people we speak to on the street are against pre-emptive action. They are saying no in DuPage County,” said Amy Tauchman of the DuPage County Against War Coalition. DuPage County is a Republican stronghold in the state.

“I don’t view this as just war against the Iraqi people,” said Bob Kolb, a member of the Sheetmetal Workers Union. “It is a war against working families around the world. We’ve got to stop it.”

The Rev. Paul Jakes of the Christian Council on Urban Affairs and candidate for mayor blasted Bush for going to war when there are desperate needs in Chicago.

“Bush is not welcome in Chicago. Our children will return in body bags,” he said. Jakes also criticized Mayor Daley for being so cozy to Bush during his trip here. Daley praised Bush’s giveaway to the rich despite criticisms that it will negatively impact state and city revenues.

Many speakers urged an all out effort to reach more people and give greater voice to peace sentiments between now and the time the United Nations Security Council meets to review the Iraq weapons inspectors’ report.

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