`No war with Iraq,' chant thousands in Washington

Anti-war march thought to be largest of its kind since Vietnam war era

October 27, 2002|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of protesters, some with strollers and children, some with dreadlocks and bongo drums, rallied and marched yesterday against a U.S. war with Iraq in what officials called the largest anti-war demonstration since the Vietnam era.

Hundreds of anti-war and anti-Bush signs peppered the crowd as people cheered speakers, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, and joined a slow-moving march that began at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and eventually snaked around the White House.

President Bush was not inside to hear them; he and first lady Laura Bush were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The demonstration was one of almost a dozen throughout the nation and abroad yesterday as protesters demanded that Bush back off threats of military action to topple Saddam Hussein's regime and called on voters to take the issue to the ballot box next week.

In addition to Washington, demonstrations were held from San Francisco to Augusta, Maine, as well as in Rome, Berlin, Tokyo and Mexico City.

Most recent polls show that a small majority of Americans support military action to oust Hussein.

The largely peaceful rally and march in Washington brought out a variety of people from across the country as busloads of protesters streamed into the city yesterday morning.

The U.S. Park Police stopped providing crowd estimates some years ago, but organizers claimed that more than 100,000 people took part. At least 50,000 gathered on the lawns near the Vietnam memorial and thousands more lined the streets along the march route carrying signs reading, "Drop Bush, Not Bombs," and slogans popular during the Persian Gulf war protests a decade ago, such as "No Blood For Oil."

On a nearby street corner, a handful of Iraqi-Americans staged a counter-demonstration. Aziz al-Taee, spokesman for the Iraqi-American Council, said, "I think America is doing just fine. ... We think every day Saddam stays in power, he kills more Iraqis."

The anti-war gathering at times seemed part 1960s revival and part carnival. Protesters, many in costume, danced to an impromptu jam session while a group of teen-age musicians in matching outfits representing Koreans Against a War on Iraq provided accompaniment.

Many younger protesters, with painted faces and colorful signs, said they came as part of student groups organized through their high schools and colleges. Older participants, some dressed in khaki pants and L.L. Bean shoes, said they were here because they want Bush to know that many Americans do not support a war with Iraq.

Gary and Gail Willis seemed not quite sure whether they should join in the chanting or find a seat and watch from a distance. The two drove down from York, Pa., for the march, which they said was their first experience protesting anything. They said they came because they wanted Bush to know that there are average Americans who oppose a war.

They said they had been in law school during the Vietnam War and didn't take part in the anti-war rallies that swept the country then.

"We should have been there," Gail Willis said.

"But we're here now," Gary Willis added. "This must have been what it was like in the '60s."

On the lawn in front of the platform, as speakers sang songs and gave speeches, hundreds broke into chants of "No war with Iraq."

The group cheered loudest for speakers who yelled, "We are here to take democracy back," and "If Mr. Bush wants this war so bad, let him go fight."

Jackson told them, "There is a time for peace, and now is such a time.

But Jackson, who has previously sought the Democratic presidential nomination, took the opportunity to give the event a domestic political spin.

"The economy is falling, jobs are falling," he said as people cheered. "We must not be diverted. ... We need a regime change in this country."

Dozens of pro-Palestinian groups came out in mass as did members of the Green Party and socialist organizations. A number of religious organizations also participated, including several dozens nuns from the Sisters of Mercy, who carpooled down from New York.

"Everyone has been so quiet about this war," said Sister Florence Speth. "It's fantastic to see this kind of support from around the country."

The march started an hour late, annoying several hundred protesters eager to begin. "Start the march," they chanted.

Officials from the rally's main sponsor, an umbrella group that calls itself International ANSWER, said they wanted to wait for more busloads of people they believed were on the way. The speakers also took longer than the two hours they had been allotted.

When the march finally began, the procession crept forward slowly, the front stopping and starting for almost half an hour, apparently confused by instructions from the organizers.

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