From Md. with antiwar messages

September 25, 2005|By Rona Marech | Rona Marech,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON // Among the thousands of protesters here yesterday, only one - Tia Steele - was wearing a David Michael Branning T-shirt. Her stepson, captured in a military photograph, stared out solemnly from the front of her shirt. Below him were just two dates: "4/7/1983-11/12/2004." Branning, a Marine, was 21 when he was shot and killed during the fight for the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

"The last three days have been really hard, harder than in the past," Steele said in the morning. She drove to Washington from her Baltimore home to attend the antiwar march. "It's the enormity of this and the importance. It's so important that this goes well and people hear us.

"I also know I wouldn't be here if it weren't for David. I wasn't active before," she said, her voice growing gravelly. "But I'm old enough to know that when your path changes, you don't question it; you just keep walking. ... I feel driven to prevent this from happening to anyone else. This is a needless, senseless war.

She looked around at the growing crowd and the heavy, white-gray sky. "I'm glad the sun's not shining today," she said.

The thousands of Marylanders who arrived by car, bus and train yesterday repeated similar anti-war messages as they wove among drummers, puppets, guitar players, dogs, President Bush masks and a bobbing sea of signs.

"It infuriates me that we spend so much money on a useless war and not on things we really need in this country," said Shelley Etzine, who took a bus from Baltimore with her teenage daughter. "I don't think any other mother or wife or child should lose a loved one for a war that's based on a lie. It's a crime."

Etzine, an immigrant from South Africa who became a U.S. citizen last year, said she was especially angry as a new citizen. "This is not the America I thought I was coming to," she said.

Matt Wemmer, 18, a freshman at Towson University, had never attended a political protest before yesterday's march. "I'm here to learn, I'm here to listen, and if I can contribute, I'll do that, too," he said.

He was waiting to begin marching near 15th Street and Constitution Avenue, and the crowd around him was dense, restless and loud. Someone perched atop a stone pillar was playing a guitar; people waved American flags embossed with peace signs, and an occasional roar that started from the belly of the crowd rolled back.

"I feel proud to be an American," Wemmer said. He hadn't expected that, he said. He hadn't, actually, been opposed to the war at first, but something has changed for him. "It's just a terrible thing to watch," he said. "It makes me sad."

Morgan Wheeler, an electrician from Baltimore, came to the march with so many family members he'd lost count. His parents were there, his wife, his daughters, his cousin - maybe a dozen in all, he said. He had been at the Mall for about 15 minutes before he lost them, so after a fruitless search - during which he bought a copy of The Journal of Bolshevik Tendency for $1 - he went by himself to march with the Veterans for Peace contingent. He served in the Army for five years in the 1980s.

"I like to think of myself as part of the poverty draft. I had a child on the way. I didn't have any job," said Wheeler, 42. "I think a lot of people are in the same boat."

He was carrying a sign that pictured Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney above the words "Whenever we needed more oil we just invaded another country."

"My parents were members of the peace movement during the Vietnam War, and one of my earliest memories is being on the steps of the Capitol and being tear-gassed by the police," Wheeler said. "That shaped my feelings about this government a long time ago."

He waved at the throng around him. "I feel right at home here," he said. "It's important that the rest of the world knows we're not all warmongers."

As the day drew to a close, Steele, who carried photographs of her stepson with her as she marched, said the sadness she felt in the morning somehow had lifted.

"There wasn't much to be melancholy about during the march because it's so exhilarating," she said as she headed back to her hotel. "Now I'm just tired ... emotionally and physically."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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