Washington - Amid chants of "no blood for oil" and signs and speeches assailing President Bush as a warmonger, tens of thousands of protesters rallied and marched against U.S. policy in Iraq.
"This is just the beginning," student organizer Peta Lindsay told
the bundled-up crowds on the National Mall. "We will stop this war."
The D.C. event headlined a series of anti-war protests in the United States and
It took place in weather conditions bitter by Washington standards, with
temperatures in the 20s. That didn't stop one protester from stripping down to
his Speedo and inviting passers-by to draw peace symbols all over his body. The
crowds were fed by fleets of buses from across the country, including more than
a dozen from Wisconsin. "This is the last chance for thousands of people to
tell the president that we don't want another war with Iraq before he makes his
final decision," said Josh Healey, a freshman sociology major at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Just west of the Capitol, a long list of speakers decried a possible invasion
of Iraq and angrily accused the president and the U.S. government of a litany of
sins from imperialism to militarism to oil greed. Among the thousands of signs
bobbing in the crowd: "Drunk Frat Boy Drives Country into Ditch."
"What Would Jesus Bomb?" "Drop Tuition, Not Bombs."
"Barbara, Tell George Not to Play With Guns." Besides the president,
the media also was a popular target, reflecting the sentiments of many in the
crowd that anti-war feeling in the country has been ignored.
"Where is the liberal media when we need it?" joked Vermonter
Margaret Young. "There is time for us to stop the war . . . that so few
really support," House Democrat John Conyers of Michigan told the crowd.
Clusters of protesters advertised themselves as "Okies for Peace,"
"Vermonters for Peace," "Fighting Scots for Peace." Art
Marburg, 52, a self-employed Milwaukee resident, rode a bus here with 70 others.
He called the protests "a decisive moment for American foreign
policy." "Nobody wants this war to happen," said Dawn Tucker, an
18-year-old from Madison. "The only people that aren't upset are those that
don't know what's going on. If you're not pissed off, you're not reading the
news." Tucker described the bus trip and rally as a bonding experience.
On the lengthy road trip here, riders napped, discussed current events and
watched a presidential bloopers video. The speakers Saturday included some
well-known figures - actress Jessica Lange, rocker Patti Smith, presidential
hopeful Al Sharpton, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson - along with many
lesser-known activists with an array of causes that ranged far beyond Iraq
policy. Jackson told the crowd, "We march today to fight militarism, and
racism, and sexism, and anti-Semitism, and Arab-bashing." There was
diversity in the audience, in age, background and, to some degree, politics.
Those in the crowd ranged from the rather mainstream in their criticism of
government policy to many who were colorfully or stridently anti-Bush or anti-U.S.,
indicting the government as "globalist," "colonialist" and
"fascist." One protester, a retired federal worker from Maryland named
Mace Olcott, told a reporter he felt it was important for political moderates to
be heard in the debate, so "fringe groups don't dominate the agenda. Middle
Americans aren't going to be influenced by the crazies." Said Olcott:
"I'm not a leftist at all, but I don't think we are capable of bringing
democracy to Iraq." Moments later, a man handed him a leaflet on "Why
we are burning flags." Olcott winced. "That I don't agree with,"
he said. 'All walks of life' Healey, the UW freshman, saw the crowd as coming
from "all walks of life." "We had 1,000 people travel from
Wisconsin to tell George Bush that we're against this war," he said.
"Bush might not listen to a small group of pacifists, but he'll listen
to the churches that come out, he'll listen to the mainstream business people or
people from small town Wisconsin. . . . It gives you a feeling of hope."
But a lot of demonstrators viewed the prospect of war with pessimism. "We
have Bush as a president. He'll come up with any excuse he can find (for war).
I'm trying, though," said Karina Kwiatkowski, a Virginia high school senior
carrying a "No Blood for Oil" sign. "I refuse to feel
resigned," said Pat La Cross of Madison, though she found herself a bit
disappointed that Saturday's crowd wasn't larger. "We should be making more
noise," she said.
A lot of middle-aged protesters, some of them veterans of the Vietnam peace
movement, brought their school- and college-age children to the rally. Tradition
of activism Richard Sanford, 51, of Watertown paid $85 to travel 18 hours by bus
from Milwaukee with his daughter Chelsea, 18, and her best friend, Jessica
Adams, 19, both freshmen at UW-Stevens Point. Richard Sanford, who attended
UW-Eau Claire and actively protested the Vietnam War, said he was proud to be
passing along the tradition of activism to his daughter. "It's amazing to
be here with him," Chelsea Sanford said. "How many people can say that
they were out here protesting with their dad? This is affecting my generation. A
lot of my friends are in the military, and it scares me." After the rally,
protesters marched to the Washington Navy Yard.
Police estimated the marchers at about 30,000, part of a larger crowd that
packed the east end of the National Mall. Demonstrations against the war, large
and small, also took place in San Francisco; Minneapolis; Toronto; Montreal;
Tokyo; Paris; Cairo, Egypt; Christchurch, New Zealand; Moscow and other locales.
President Bush was at Camp David on Saturday. The White House issued a statement
noting that Americans were free to protest but Iraqis are not. Erin Madigan
contributed to this story as a special correspondent.