Rally in D.C. says no to war

Protesters brave the cold to demonstrate at Capitol

Iraq policy `misguided,' they say

Parallel rallies take place in U.S. cities and abroad

January 19, 2003|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Standing close together for solidarity - and warmth - tens of thousands of protesters braved freezing weather yesterday to rally against a war with Iraq, making gloved peace signs and waving banners that read "Don't Trade Lives for Oil."

The rally outside the Capitol was one of many demonstrations at home and abroad against possible U.S. military strikes on Iraq. More protests in San Francisco and at least 10 other U.S. cities - and rallies in 25 other countries, including Germany, Bahrain and Japan - targeted the Bush administration and its military buildup in the Persian Gulf.

"We want to let people in Iraq and other places know that a lot of Americans don't go along with Bush's misguided war policy," said Tim Joseph, 52, who carried the sign "Another Carpenter for Peace."

The builder from Brethren, Mich., added, "We fear people will really suffer in a war."

Demonstrators bundled up and trudged onto the National Mall without the lure of many high-profile speakers - such as Democratic lawmakers who endorsed the use of force against Iraq in Congress three months ago. Instead, it was that party's squeaky wheels who addressed the crowd, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is preparing a presidential bid, and civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

"It's hope time," Jackson told the crowd at the rally, which was organized in part to fight for civil rights on the holiday weekend celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. "It's peace time!"

Protesters accused the White House of gearing up for war without garnering support from the international community or showing proof that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction.

Though polls still show a majority of Americans support a war with Iraq, that number drops when Americans are asked whether they would favor a U.S. invasion without the backing of an international coalition or one that resulted in large numbers of U.S. casualties.

Demonstrators gathering for a weekend of anti-war events did so without President Bush's company; he was at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md.

Many protesters called themselves "Patriots for Peace," saying Americans are made to feel disloyal if they criticize Bush's policies in the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere.

"Patriotism has been used falsely by this administration - people feel they can't speak out," said Jessica Flagg, 50, a Manhattan business consultant in a red-white-and-blue parka. "Freedom, democracy, social justice - those are the ideas this country used to represent in the eyes of the world, and I feel we've let the world down."

College students, war veterans, anti-war demonstrators and labor activists were among those filling the crowd, which later marched toward the Washington Navy Yard. Protest organizers from the group International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) said 500,000 demonstrators turned out, though U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer told the Associated Press that the crowd along the two-mile march route measured "about 30,000 people."

Most protesters said U.S. conflicts with Iraq would be best handled through diplomacy. Others asserted that the solution lies in winning hearts and minds.

"We should drop blankets and food and American music and culture in Iraq," said Angela Havey, an architectural drafter from Plainfield, N.J. "Then those people could fall in love with all the things we've fallen in love with, and that in turn could bring about change."

At times, the rally morphed into a demonstration against Bush's domestic policies, as protesters accused the administration of putting war ahead of a sluggish economy.

"Workers and working people want jobs, but we want jobs and an economy that is built on peace and not war and destruction," Fred D. Mason, leader of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO, told the crowd.

Other issues sprung up amid the protests, too. "No to War and Oil, Yes to Love and Hemp," read one sign. "Global Warming is a Weapon of Mass Destruction," read another.

Though Neil Mitten, 19, said his campus at Loyola College in Maryland was not ablaze with anti-war sentiment, he felt compelled to march anyway. Mitten, who came with 30 Loyola students, held a sign with a picture of Bush and his father, former President George Bush, over the caption, "Stop Cloning Politicians."

"War with Iraq is such a priority, while poverty is not in the forefront of the country right now," he said. "I think the problem is with the priorities in this country."

The protest resulted in two arrests, said U.S. Capitol Police - one for disorderly conduct and the other for defacement of government property.

The cold was the bigger problem: Demonstrators were treated by medics for exposure, and march organizers broadcast from the podium that protesters ought to check each other for signs of hypothermia - shivering, confusion and clumsiness. Others encouraged wrapping each other in "peace hugs" to get warm.

Despite temperatures hovering in the mid-20s, some parents brought their children.

Adrienne Connolly, 37, said her 3-year-old son, Carsten, had learned the word "weapon," from the news; she wanted to show him an alternative.

The teacher from Arlington, Va., brought him after wondering how parents of U.S. soldiers must feel as war looms.

"I felt really emotional about it," she said, wiping away tears as Carsten ate an Oreo atop her shoulders. "I thought, `I want to be part of that protest.' I want my child to know we are a family that doesn't just talk about opposing war. We act on it."

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