Tens of thousands protest Iraq war

Demonstration is largest of its kind in Washington since invasion

September 25, 2005|By Gwyneth K. Shaw | Gwyneth K. Shaw,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON // Chanting "Bring our troops home now" and "George Bush has got to go," tens of thousands of protesters descended on the White House yesterday in the largest antiwar rally here since the start of the Iraq war.

A crowd, informally estimated by police at 100,000, marched through downtown Washington under a dark gray sky and occasional drizzle, toting signs, bullhorns and bongo drums to make their case against the Bush administration.

The demonstration, which included a concert on the Washington Monument grounds that was scheduled to run until midnight, was largely peaceful. By early evening, Washington police had reported three arrests.

Marchers and rally speakers called for the impeachment of President Bush and drew parallels between the conflict in Iraq and the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, portraying both as examples of administration failures.

"We're going to Congress, and we're going to ask them, `How many more of other people's children are you going to sacrifice?'" shouted Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother who became the face of the antiwar movement last month.

"We're going to say, `Shame on you,'" said Sheehan, who camped out in front of President Bush's Texas ranch, demanding to meet with him.

Bush was not in Washington yesterday. He spent the day in Colorado and Texas, checking on the federal response to Hurricane Rita.

Authorities declined to give an official crowd estimate. But organizers had obtained permits for 100,000, and D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said it appeared they had met their goal. Organizers said that upward of 200,000 people were on hand.

The last Washington demonstration of similar size, held two months before the start of the war in March 2003, attracted an estimated 100,000 protesters in the biggest anti-war demonstration in the city since the Vietnam War. The largest protest rally in recent years was an antiwar, anti-Bush march that drew about a half-million people in New York City on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention.

The same group that sponsored that rally, United for Peace and Justice, was the main organizer of yesterday's march, which began at the Ellipse and wound its way down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House.

Several dozen counter-protesters stood behind large banners and crowd-control fencing near the end of the march route. Helmeted U.S. Park Police kept the two sides apart.

Nina Burke of Fredericksburg, Va., came with other military families to make her opposition to the antiwar protest clear. Two of her cousins are career officers -- one in the Army, the other in the Navy.

"I don't want either one of them to turn on their TV and all they see is anti-war protesters," said Burke, 46. "I want them to see people who support them."

But there were veterans making their opposition to the war known, too.

Among them was first-time antiwar marcher Matt Brennan of Bloomington, Ind., who wore his military ribbons pinned to his shirt pocket and spoke of how his attitudes had changed since his service in the Vietnam War.

"I had nothing but disdain for the protesters back then, but I didn't know very much," said Brennan, 59. "I'm sure these soldiers today feel the same way, but they'll learn."

For hours after the rally's midday start, which was delayed by transportation problems on Amtrak and the city's subway system, protesters clogged the center of the city. Their T-shirts and signs, homemade and professionally printed, were emblazoned with slogans such as "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam," "Make levees, not war" and "The National Guard is in the wrong Gulf."

The crowd was an intergenerational mix. Most appeared to be under 30, but a sizable grayed minority was old enough to have participated in the antiwar rallies of the 1960s.

Ruth Zalph of Carrboro, N.C., 75, said she found the enthusiasm of the crowd invigorating.

"The young people see a need in their lives to make changes," she said. "They see that the new millennium didn't bring the hopes and the dreams they thought it would."

Marching with a group of classmates from Bowdoin College in Maine, freshman Miranda Yaver sported a button with a Thomas Jefferson quote: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

"I think these peace rallies are a good chance to voice your opinion," said Yaver, 18, of Berkeley, Calif., a veteran of Bay-area protests. "If you show your opposition in the form of nonviolent civil disobedience, then maybe the world will listen."

Sabiya Prince, a 46-year-old anthropologist from Columbia, Md., said it was important for there to be an enormous crowd.

"I feel like if everybody emptied out of their houses and came out into the streets, the Bush administration wouldn't be able to get away with all of this corrupt behavior," Prince said.

Getting U.S. troops out of Iraq seemed to be the main theme of the march, though antiwar groups are split over timing. International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), one of the main sponsors, advocates an immediate pullout. Others, including Moveon.org, favor a phased withdrawal starting late next year.

Washington resident Joan Meyer said public outrage over the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina relief could spur greater opposition to the war.

"It just seems like this is a really good time, because people's emotions are at an all-time high, and people who weren't all that upset with the way things are going are getting it," said Meyer, 30, who marched with her 7-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son.

Sun reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis contributed to this report.

gwyneth.shaw@baltsun.com

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