WASHINGTON -- Tens of thousands of placard-wieldin students and veterans, farmers and feminists surged past the White House yesterday chanting, "Hey, Hey, Uncle Sam, we remember Vietnam." It was one of the country's largest protests so far against the Persian Gulf war.
The crowd, which police estimated at 75,000, extended for nearly a mile between the Capitol and the White House. It was triple the size of the protest in the capital a week earlier.
[In San Francisco, meanwhile, a crowd estimated at 30,000 by police and at 225,000 by organizers filled 14 blocks in a colorful peace march, the Associated Press reported.
[In other communities across the nation, thousands of people came out to stand up for the troops who have been at war since Jan. 16. In Boston, for example, a convoy of more than 100 moving vans, festooned with yellow ribbons and U.S. flags, circled the city in support of U.S. troops.]
In Washington, the crowd swept down Pennsylvania Avenue behind a banner stating "Stop War -- Bring Our Troops Home Now." There were young men wearing gas masks and young families pushing strollers. Above their heads were kites displaying peace signs and caricatures of President Bush. Placards read "Vermont Says No to War" and "Minnesota for People Not War."
The sea of faces chanting "No blood for oil" and other slogans was mostly young and white, although there were numerous graying veterans of Vietnam War protests, blacks and Hispanics, American Indians, young families and labor leaders. Well-dressed middle-aged women stood shoulder-to-shoulder with young men in pony tails with peace symbols painted on their faces.
Protest organizers estimated the crowd at 250,000. U.S. Park Police said there were no arrests yesterday.
Riot police formed a line in front of the White House and patrolled the lawn, although Mr. Bush was at his mountain retreat in Camp David.
"It took four years to organize against the Vietnam War. It's taken us only one week," said Mary Ann Smith, 56, of Rochester, N.Y., who arrived with 300 anti-war activists.
She dismissed polls taken this weekend showing as many as 85 percent of Americans supporting Operation Desert Storm. "I just don't believe the polls. Many people oppose this," she said. "We had to turn people away because we couldn't get enough buses."
The burgeoning anti-war movement is "more widespread" than its Vietnam-era counterpart, said Ed Miles, 46, of New York, a disabled Vietnam veteran who eventually protested against that war. Churches and other groups that remained silent over Vietnam are now pushing for an end to the gulf war.
"I think it's just time people learn how to solve international problems without slaughtering people," said Doug Manley, 70, a World War II veteran from Albany, N.Y., who held a banner at the front of the rally reading "Veteran's Task force on the Middle East."
Kelly Wolf, 16, a high school junior from Richmond, Va., marched with her father, a corporate lawyer. "A lot of my friends said protesting doesn't do any good," she said. "I said, 'Ask Dr. Martin Luther King that.' "
Two small groups of counter demonstrators, chanting "USA, USA," encountered the protesters at the Navy Memorial and at Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Cries of "Free Kuwait Now" wre drowned out by shouts of "No blood for oil."
"They're ignorant. They just want a reason to bitch," said Chris Foltz, 20, of Springfield, Va., as he watched the protestors sweep past.
Fred Bari, 40, of Great Falls, Va., also stood with those backing the war effort. He held a sign reading "We Support Our Troops 100 percent," and snapped at the larger demonstration: "They're traitors."
A separate protest by black students folded into the larger ranks of protesters as they headed down Pennsylvania Avenue. "This is not a war for democracy," said Shante Nichols, 20, of Pittsburgh, Calif., whose brother is an Army lieutenant in the gulf.
Many of the students took issue with the disproportionately high number of black soldiers among the troops. "Down with racist poverty draft," read one sign.
They filled the Ellipse, a park across from the White House, where the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson was greeted with thunderous applause when he urged that diplomacy replace the fighting.
"All bombing and no talk will leave us brain dead," said Mr. Jackson, surrounded by families of Persian Gulf servicemen whose pictures were draped about their necks. "The need for negotiation grows stronger every day."
TC Representative Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., was the only member of Congress among the speakers, who included actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. Mr. Rangel called upon the Bush administration to "give peace a chance."
"We have no right to have a Clint Eastwood foreign policy," he said.