Thousands plead for U.S. to avoid war

Protesters for peace, counter-demonstrators avoid violence in D.C.

Terrorism Strikes America

September 30, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman and Jeff Barker | Ellen Gamerman and Jeff Barker,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Several thousand anti-war demonstrators marched through downtown Washington yesterday calling for a peaceful resolution to the terror crisis, even as an overwhelming majority of Americans continue to support a military response.

The anti-war demonstration, the largest in the nation's capital since the Persian Gulf conflict a decade ago, was largely peaceful itself. There were 11 arrests, police said, as well as scattered, shouted confrontations between marchers and counter-demonstrators.

Many of the marchers had originally planned to demonstrate against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which called off its meeting here this weekend in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Instead of canceling their protest plans, as some anti-IMF groups did, those who came anyway adapted their anti-globalization theme to the U.S. anti-terror campaign.

Some blamed anti-American sentiment around the world on U.S. foreign policy, charging that the government has coddled oppressive regimes for decades with little regard for human rights. But mostly, the protest was designed- as one placard put it - to "Break the Cycle of War."

"We can't kill innocent children in Afghanistan just to say we've responded to terrorism," said Jessica Hiemenz, 20, a junior at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., who carried a large papier-mache dove. "We need to look at what we've done wrong in the world - if we don't, then more of our buildings will keep blowing up in our face."

Some younger demonstrators said that, for the first time in their lives, they were terrified about being drawn into a war that threatened to produce U.S. casualties.

Dan Dahari, 24, a Goucher College senior, said he had begun the paperwork to make it easier to register as a conscientious objector should the country reinstate the military draft, but fretted that even his own family might consider him disloyal.

"My mother feels very strongly I'm portraying real anti-American sentiment even by being here," he said. "It's a very alienating feeling."

Counter-protesters walked along two routes, including up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, waving American flags and sporting T-shirts bearing the image of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and the words "America's Most Wanted. Dead or Alive."

"Traitors!" one man shouted at the anti-war marchers.

Vietnam veteran Ernest Purcell of Jessup, whose shirt bore the slogan "United Together ... Stronger Than Ever," said he had a hard time watching the protesters.

"I was seething when I walked by, but I'm not here to confront anybody," he said. "Emotions are high. I'm angry."

About 3,600 D.C. police officers, many in riot gear, were on hand - far fewer than the number that would have been needed if tens of thousands of IMF-World Bank protesters had converged here.

Still, tensions flared, and police used pepper spray at least twice to control crowds.

Several hundred demonstrators were detained for more than an hour by police, who ringed the streets around the World Bank and refused to let them out of the area. Black-clad activists calling themselves anarchists - a familiar sight from protests last year against IMF-World Bank meetings here - donned gas masks and prepared for a face-off.

But protesters said they had toned down their tactics, in view of the Sept. 11 terrorism and its aftermath.

"Police are viewed right now as heroes, so if we have problems with them, people might equate us with terrorists," said Adam Eidinger, a local protest organizer.

Rally speakers called for tolerance of Muslims and an end to racial profiling. While expressing regret over the terrorist attack, many placed broad blame on the United States.

"We have been committing acts of terrorism ... with our embargoes and our backing of whoever it takes to make sure the dollar is always strong," Debbie Daniels, a medical worker with the group Doctors for Global Health, told the crowd.

District Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey had expressed concern earlier in the week about possible violence between protesters and counter-demonstrators who had been expected to gather at the Washington Monument.

But the counter-demonstration there never came off. As peace activists chanted "No War" at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue, the monument grounds a few blocks away were empty, save for strolling tourists and college students playing touch football.

Still, there were heated exchanges between anti-war marchers and those eager for a military response at several points along the rally route, including the U.S. Navy Memorial.

"We just laughed at them and told them they ought to be drafted and fight for their country," said Mike Farabee, a tourist from Portland, Ore.

At one street corner, anti-war demonstrator Ryan Joanes approached a group of people carrying a "Don't Tread on Me" flag.

"Oh, we shouldn't tread on you but it's OK to tread on Afghanistan?" said Joanes, 25, who came to the protest from Akron, Ohio. A few in the group shouted, "Yes!" and Adam Schaeffer, 24, added: "Why don't you move out of the country if you don't like it?"

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