Courier News

New Brunswick Protest March Marks Iraq War's 6th Anniversary, Highights Domestic Issues

MyCentralJersey.com — Thursday, March 19, 2009

By JOSHUA BURD
Staff Writer

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Protesters marked the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq on Thursday by marching through downtown New Brunswick, in a rally that condemned the policies of President George W. Bush but expressed a measured optimism for the Obama presidency.

Dozens of marchers representing a slew of watchdog, labor and academic groups joined forces for combined rally and vigil, which took them to seven landmarks around the city — the Bank of America, the Army Recruitment Center, the County Administration Building, the PSE&G building, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Rutgers University and the New Brunswick train station — and meant to highlight themes related to the war and to domestic issues.

"It's the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war," Jim Walsh, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said before the rally began. "It's a somber anniversary, but it's a time for us to look at a new direction for our country and a shift in our priorities."

Beginning about three-dozen strong, the chanting marchers assembled at the Bank of America building at Albany and George streets at 5:30 p.m., then took off for the other sites. The crowd caught the attention of shop workers and honking motorists as they marched down George Street, growing to about 50 by the time they reached their third destination.

Edwin DeJesus, 29, was one of those who joined the march after the rally began. The Old Bridge man said he heard about the march and joined in after work, hoping to make sure the new president continues to listen.

"I feel that we're taking steps in the right direction, with the government and the administration," he said at the third stop of the marching route, the Middlesex County Administration Building. "But we just have to make sure our voices are heard to keep that momentum going, to catch some steam."

The rally was critical of some Obama policies, including his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan and his plan for withdrawing forces from Iraq. Speaking at the march's outset, the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action, decried the president's timetable for withdrawal. The plan calls for combat troops to leave after 19 months, but for thousands of others to remain for training and other purposes.

"That's just not acceptable," Moore said. "That's 30,000 troops that are still in harm's way that need to be brought home."

The sign-hoisting and fist-pumping marchers also touched on other subjects such as the economy and the housing crisis, health care and labor. Besides the end of the combat in the Middle East, their demands included job creation, regulation of Wall Street and clean energy.

Walsh called on Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., to use his place on the Senate Financial Services Committee to advance the group's agenda. He and other organizers called on Congress to cut the military budget annually by 25 percent, among other demands.

Joe DeLengyel, 75, said he has been protesting the war for six years, including weekly demonstrations in Monroe and Highland Park.

"I believe in the cause, but whether it's productive, I don't know," said the Monroe man, who had a handwritten "BRING OUR TROOPS HOME" sign hanging from his neck. "I just know of no other way to voice my opinion."

The march, officially called "Rebuild & Renew America Now," was organized by New Jersey Citizen Action. The watchdog group boasts more than 60,000 members and 110 affiliate organizations.

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