CHICAGO – Beth Johnson had never been to a national demonstration before. Now, on a chilly Chicago street, she was one of about 400 people setting out on a 14-hour bus trip to Washington, D.C., for the April 20 Stop the War demonstration.

“It’s got to be okay for people to question what our government is doing,” she said. “They want to be able to do that without being called a traitor or unpatriotic. Many people are afraid to speak out.”

Johnson is a member of the Fox Valley Pledge of Resistance, in Kane County, Ill., in House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) district. The group was formed in the 1980s to protest U.S. intervention in Central America. It has held weekly vigils since November against U.S. bombing of Afghanistan.

Mary Shesgreen, another member of the group, said, “We are protesting any spread of this war to other countries.” Johnson said many people are upset that “the Bush administration has decided Iraq needs a regime change … If the U.S. doesn’t uphold international law, who will?”

Bettina Perillo, who belongs to the Church of the Brethren, a “historical peace church,” said she is also very concerned about the war in Colombia.

Marge Frana, from DuPage County, teaches a social justice class in a girls’ Catholic high school in Chicago. She told the World, “I’m here to be an example for my students. I’m here to walk the talk.”

As four packed buses pulled out past the darkening waters of Lake Michigan, Northwestern University freshman Tegan Jones said she wants to do “anything I can to make my voice heard.”

Jones, who is from an autoworker union family in Warren, Mich., said it is “refreshing to see a whole busload of other people” doing the same thing. She said she is very concerned about justice in Palestine, about people being forced out of their homes, killed in the streets, denied medical care.

Fellow Northwestern freshman Shom Dasupgta commented that after Sept. 11 there was a push for “blind patriotism.” “The fact that so many people are showing up” for this protest, he said, shows that “people are still thinking.”

Settling down for a long night on the road, another first-time demonstrator, Mary Bugallo, said, “I’ve never been much of a political maven. Sept. 11 was a turning point. It gave me an awareness of the time we’re allotted … to make a difference.” Bugallo said she was stunned by Bush’s post-Sept. 11 speech and its call for an endless war scenario. “Haven’t enough people been killed?” she asked.

The day of marching and mingling with people from around the country proved exhilarating, many participants said.

It was a “tremendous outpouring,” Sarah Staggs, Chicago Peace Response steering committee member, told the World as she waited to board the bus for the ride home. “Seven months ago the notion of speaking out to oppose Bush’s ‘war on terrorism’ was very difficult. Today, Bush has to accept that there is a strong cross-section” opposing his policies.

Staggs said Peace Response, a coalition of nearly 30 Chicago-area organizations, would continue to pressure Congress for stronger opposition to Bush’s war policies. “There’s still more emergency work to be done to bring peace to the Middle East,” she said.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees member Shelby Richardson said the day’s events “will make our work easier in talking to people about Bush’s way of dealing with things … It demonstrated that so many people have a different view.”

Many, including the African-American community, see the connection between the war at home and abroad, he said. “I’d like to see much more labor input,” he told the World. Now, he said, “we can clearly make the case that lots of people oppose Bush’s policies.”


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.