Cries of "No blood for oil!" and "Money for schools, not for war!" rang through the streets of downtown Chicago Wednesday as several hundred Chicago-area students gathered to protest U.S. military action in Iraq.
Anti-war demonstrators from at least one high school and roughly ten area colleges were present at Wednesday's event, including about fifty students from the University of Chicago.
As rush-hour commuters made their way home, demonstrators congregated outside the Illinois State Center, located at the corners of Randolph and Clark.
Dozens of Chicago police officers looked on as the crowd listened to speakers who decried the impending war in Iraq as a thinly-veiled ploy to serve major U.S. business interests. These speakers also argued that the estimated $40 billion cost of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq would be better spent on education.
According to Stephanie Schaudel, an activist with the group Voices in the Wilderness and the first speaker at Wednesday's event, attempts by the Bush administration to portray U.S. intervention in Iraq as an urgent matter of national security are designed to divert attention from what she argues is the real priority of a military campaign.
"It's about the fact that Iraq sits on top of the second-largest oil reserve in the world and that it's not available to U.S. companies under the current regime," she said.
Schaudel also argued that the administration's stated goal of establishing a democratically-elected government in Iraq was a thinly-veiled attempt to establish a "U.S. puppet regime" in Baghdad, one that would act favorably to U.S. interests.
Schaudel's remarks were received with applause, cheers, and beating drums, as the crowdwhich event organizers estimated at about 400voiced their approval.
Another speaker at Wednesday's rally was Kieran, who identified himself as a "rank and file UPS worker" and requested that his last name be withheld. According to Kieran, who represented Teamsters Local 705, the anti-war movement includes union workers in addition to its more visible student and activist elements.
"We're the kind of people the media tries to tell you support George Bush," he said.
Kieran said he opposed the war in Iraq because he felt that it would advance the interests of the wealthy, though they would not be called upon to serve in combat: "We know it's not the sons and daughters of the rich who fight and die in these wars," he said, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
One of the event's more controversial speakers was Suzanne Adely, a master's student in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. Adely condemned Israeli policies and argued for an independent Palestinian state. While much of the crowd broke into chants of "Free Palestine" during Adely's speech, several dissenting voices were raised: "Israel deserves to exist," shouted one unidentified protestor.
Around 4:30, after 45 minutes of speeches, protesters left the Illinois State Center en masse and took to the streets. As darkness fell, the crowd marched south on Clark Street.
While there was a cacophony of chanting and drum-banging, the march was an orderly affair. Protestors did not leave the sidewalk to block traffic and no property was damaged.
Chicago police officers in cars, bicycles, ATVs and vans escorted the procession, which stretched about two blocks as it moved south on Clark towards Adams, then east on Adams until it reached Federal Plaza at Adams and Dearborn.
Having reached Federal Plaza, protestors regrouped, chanting "One, two, three, four: we don't want your daddy's war! Five, six, seven, eight: we will not cooperate!" After some final remarks, the crowd dispersed at about 5:30 p.m.
Wednesday's protest was hailed as a success by the Chicagoland Student Anti-War Network (CSAWN), which organized the event. CSAWN is an organization of students from various schools throughout the area. It seeks to bring anti-war groups from individual schools together to create a region-wide network that opposes U.S. military action in Iraq.
CSAWN member Jessica Maiorca expressed relief and satisfaction with Wednesday's proceedings. "To come together, establish ourselves, and put together an anti-war rally was a test of nerves and faith. Early on we decided that we just wouldn't give up. We supported each other," she said. "I was incredibly proud of us."
One organization that worked with CSAWN was No War In Iraq, which is "an ad hoc group started earlier this year for people of all political backgrounds who are anxious about the prospect of war in Iraq," said Noah Millstone, a third-year in the College and one of No War In Iraq's founding members.
Like Maiorca, Millstone expressed satisfaction with Wednesday's event, but stressed that it was only the beginning of an ongoing effort. "Collective action is an important part of any strategy that's going to bring about change. This event was an important beginning. Students are going to be an integral part of the movement to stop war in Iraq, and we hope to build for larger events in the future," Millstone said.
In addition to participating in events like Wednesday's rally, No War In Iraq is also pursuing other strategies to stop US military action. The group is currently working to add a referendum to the ballot in this winter's aldermanic elections in the Fifth Ward.
The sought-after referendum will ask voters whether or not they support military action in Iraq, though the final wording has yet to be determined. Working with Hyde Parkers Against War On Iraq, a recently established community group, No War In Iraq hopes a referendum will boost the visibility of anti-war sentiment.
"Referenda on unusual things are always big news, we're doing this to raise awareness, we expect this to get a lot of press," Millstone said.
Asked whether he is afraid that an affirmative vote on the referendum would produce the opposite of its desired effect, Millstone said: "That's a risk you have to take, we don't expect that will be the case in the Fifth Ward. The US congressmen from this area all voted against the resolution [to grant Bush the power to launch a pre-emptive strike]."
To add a referendum to the ballot, No War In Iraq and Hyde Parkers Against War on Iraq will have to collect signatures of 10 percent of Fifth Ward voters by mid-December.