Baltimore voices join call to end war in Iraq

Tens of thousands of protesters rally for peace on the National Mall in D.C.

January 28, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Mike and Kacy Cross of Perry Hall had not attended an anti-war rally since their hippie days during the Vietnam War era, but they wanted to support their teenage son Jesse in his own growing opposition to the Iraq war, so they turned yesterday's rally and march into a family affair.

The Cross family hopped aboard a caravan of six yellow school buses shepherding about 250 Baltimore-area protesters to the nation's capital, where tens of thousands of people joined a half-dozen lawmakers and an icon of the Vietnam protest movement in demanding an end to the unpopular conflict.

For many of the Baltimore area, it was their first public demonstration against the Iraq war, just as it was for Jane Fonda, whose outspoken criticism of Vietnam made her a lightning rod for conservative criticism.

"Silence is no longer an option," said the actress to cheers from the stage on the National Mall. She said she had held back from activism so as not to be a distraction for the Iraq anti-war movement but needed to speak out now.

The rally on the Mall unfolded peacefully, although about 300 protesters tried to rush the Capitol, running up the grassy lawn to the front of the building.

Police on motorcycles scuffled with some of them and barricaded entrances.

United for Peace and Justice, a coalition group sponsoring the rally on the Mall, had hoped 100,000 would come.

Police, who no longer give official estimates, said privately the crowd was smaller than that.

Speakers urged Congress to withhold funding for President Bush's plan to temporarily increase troop levels in Iraq.

"I will not vote one dime," vowed California Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat, after calling the president a "liar."

The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, threatened to use congressional spending power to try to stop the war. "George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing," he said, looking out at the crowd.

"The founders of our country gave our Congress the power of the purse because they envisioned a scenario exactly like we find ourselves in today. [Not] only is it in our power, it is our obligation to stop Bush."

Joining the handful of congressmen on stage was Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County, who did not speak.

Although Democrats have taken the lead in opposing the war, some Republicans, including Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland and Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore, have sent letters to Bush indicating their objection to the troop increase.

A U.S. flag-draped coffin rested on the stage yesterday, alongside a pair of military boots, symbolizing American war dead. On the Mall stood a large bin filled with tags bearing the names of Iraqis who have died.

A small contingent of active-duty service members attended the rally, wearing civilian clothes because military rules forbid them from protesting in uniform.

In the crowd, signs recalled the November elections that defeated the Republican congressional majority, in part because of President Bush's Iraq policy.

"Save lives, not face," one read.

More people from the Baltimore area turned out yesterday than have for recent out-of-town war protests, said Max Obuszewski, a peace activist who helped organize the trip to the capital.

Jayne Hill, a history teacher at Aberdeen High School, said she was motivated to attend her first rally by the proposal to send more troops to Iraq.

"I am a teacher, so I have to keep an objective perspective, but I see people getting more impatient," Hill said. "If you are not in politics and not in the government, this is the only way you can get your voice heard."

Another teacher, Dan Hellerbach of Roland Park Middle School, said his parents took him to civil rights and anti-war rallies decades ago.

This time, it was his two sons, ages 12 and 14, who persuaded their father to attend his first Iraq war protest.

Wearing a Santa Claus outfit, retired Social Security Administration worker Richard Wray passed out on the buses anti-war lyrics to familiar Christmas tunes, and led some Marylanders in song.

"You never associate Santa with evil," said Wray, explaining his costume. The flowing white beard and sizable paunch, he noted, were real.

For Mike and Kacy Cross, the rally was an exercise in political speech and in nostalgia.

In the 1970s, they said, Mall demonstrations were composed mostly of young people, whose parents were more reluctant to oppose the government.

Yesterday, the crowd was mixed and more sedate - though they did comply with the Rev. Jesse Jackson's request for an extended scream.

"I think there was more fire back then, I really do," said Mike Cross, 53, whose shoulder-length hair matches his son's. "I hope I am wrong."

But Kacy Cross, 50, said the atmosphere yesterday was more pleasant than in the rallies of her youth. "What I don't see out here is a lot of anger. There was a lot anger back then. Anger at us, too."

About 40 people staged a counterprotest, including Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, who lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq.

He said the anti-war protesters, especially those who are veterans or who are on active duty, "need to remember the sacrifice we have made and what our fallen comrades would say if they were alive."

Bush reaffirmed his commitment to his planned troop increase in a phone conversation yesterday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The president was in Washington for the weekend. He often is out of town during big protest days.

"He understands that Americans want to see a conclusion to the war in Iraq and the new strategy is designed to do just that," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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