Thursday, September 22, 2005

Damu Smith, founder of Black Voices for Peace, was having trouble talking yesterday, trying to answer the numerous phone calls and e-mail from reporters and visitors about this weekend’s anti-war rallies on the Mall.

“If the calls I’m receiving are any indication, I can guarantee that we’ll have more than 150,000 on the Mall on Saturday — unless there’s a hurricane in D.C.,” the fast-talking Mr. Smith said hoarsely.

Laryngitis threatens at a most inopportune moment for a passionate peacenik on the eve of what portends to be the largest anti-war rally in decades.

But Mr. Smith, who is recovering from a near-fatal attack of colorectal cancer, will not be deterred.

In fact, he has picked up the pace, bolstered by recent polls that indicate the majority of Americans oppose the war in Iraq and want to bring the troops home.

Interesting, folks opposing the war and folks supporting the war actually have the same stated aim: Both say they support the troops regardless of their stance on fighting that has claimed so many American and Iraqi lives.

Keep in mind that those who support President Bush’s Iraq war policies, namely Operation Iraq Hope, also will hold rallies on the Mall this weekend, primarily on Sunday.

Good thing we live in a democratic country that values free speech and the right of citizens to redress their government for grievances so much that it is the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

For the inalienable right for all to speak out and rally or protest, this is one Washingtonian who does not mind being momentarily inconvenienced.

Yesterday, Mr. Smith was putting finishing touches on plans for the national town hall meeting and rally for “Black Leaders to Discuss Iraq and the [Hurricane] Katrina Disaster” that was slated to be held last night at Plymouth Congregational Church in Northeast.

Earlier in the week, he was a panelist on a forum at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Legislative Weekend conference at the Washington Convention Center.

He reminded the Black Caucus conferees that “if we’re going to achieve anything around Katrina … we have to match our work in the suites with our work in the streets.”

Mr. Smith contended that taking to the streets this weekend is “imperative” for all Americans, but particularly black Americans, as he drew a correlation between “U.S. foreign policy and the domestic crises such as Hurricane Katrina.”

Billions of dollars, he said, were spent on the war while billions were diverted from resources for poor people in urban and rural areas. He noted the infamous levees of New Orleans.

“Oh, we’re going to have Katrina all up in this [rally],” he said yesterday.

Mr. Smith also noted hurried efforts to organize a “Katrina brigade” to host a “Remember the Katrina Victims” area on the Mall tomorrow.

Saying this is a “teachable moment” in the nation’s history, he recited a litany of arguments against Bush administration policies that he said led to “this illegal and immoral war,” then waxed philosophic about the hurricane again.

Mr. Smith saved some of his chastising for black leaders for not acting more swiftly in the hurricane’s aftermath.

They must get out in the forefront of these issues, he said, because of the “urgent, visible need for an uncompromised attitude to make sure rich developers do not do a gentrification scheme [and displace poor New Orleans residents] by taking advantage of this disaster.”

Mr. Smith said “we have to come up with strategies” because much work needs to be done to make the government more responsive to domestic needs.

Whether you’re on Mr. Smith’s side of the debate or not, one thing’s for sure, “we can’t have business as usual.”

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