Protesters in D.C. march to demand war's end
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of protesters Saturday staged a series of rallies and a march on the Capitol to demand that the United States end its war in Iraq.
People angry about the war arrived in Washington at what they said was a moment of opportunity to push the new Congress to take action against the war, even as the Bush administration is accelerating plans to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.
The Senate this week will begin debating a resolution of disapproval of the president's Iraq policy, setting up a confrontation with the White House.
Some protesters plan to stay and lobby their representatives in Congress. Other anti-war activists intend to barnstorm states this week, urging senators to oppose the troop escalation.
Much smaller anti-war demonstrations were held in other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, where about 2,000 protesters gathered in the Central District.
While the D.C. crowd was large and vociferous, its size was unclear. United for Peace and Justice, a coalition group sponsoring the protest, had hoped 100,000 would attend. The group claimed even more afterward, but police, who no longer give official estimates, said privately that the crowd was smaller than 100,000.
Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, said the protest's "primary value is that it keeps up the pressure. There is a sense that, by summer, a march like this will be two or three times as large."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, 65, a civil-rights and community activist, said, "Peace is controversial. But so is war. The fruit of peace is so much sweeter."
Some protesters came on behalf of relatives in the service.
"The president has been deceptive," said Bob Watada, 67, of Honolulu, father of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who is facing a court-martial next month for refusing to deploy to Iraq. Watada, 28, a Fort Lewis officer charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, missing troop movement and contempt toward officials, could be sentenced to six years in military prison.
"My son seeks to give a voice" to the thousands who do not have a voice, Bob Watada said to applause. The younger Watada addressed protesters in Seattle.
Shortly after Bob Watada spoke, his wife, Rosa Sakanishi, collapsed and was taken to George Washington University Hospital. Bob Watada said his wife may have suffered a mild stroke but was awake and feeling better late Saturday.
Oriana Futrell, 21, of Spokane, came with a sign that said: "Bring my husband home now." She said her husband, Dan, an Army lieutenant, was in Baghdad. They married in April. She said she was weary of attending military funerals.
"I've got a son who just got out of the military and another still in," said Jackie Smith, 65, from Sunapee, N.H., who carried a sign that read "Bush Bin Lyin." "And I'm here because this is all I can do to try to help them."
Among the celebrities who attended was Jane Fonda, 69, the Academy Award-winning actress and activist who during the Vietnam War was criticized for sympathizing with the North Vietnamese. She told the crowd this was the first time she had spoken at an anti-war rally in 34 years.
"I've been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new anti-war movement," she told the crowd. "But silence is no longer an option."
Fonda said she was with her daughter and two grandchildren. "I'm very proud that they're here, but I'm so sad that we still have to do this, that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War," she said.
She concluded, saying, "God bless." And someone in the crowd yelled, "All right, Janey!"
Fonda's presence drew counter protesters. Members of the conservative Free Republic group picketed an anti-war rally at the Navy Memorial where Fonda spoke earlier in the day. "Hanoi Jane," one sign read. "Wrong then, wrong now."
Bush, who often spends weekends at Camp David, Md., was in Washington on Saturday but had no public events scheduled.
The day's events were organized chiefly by United for Peace and Justice, which describes itself as a coalition of 1,400 local and national organizations. Among them are the National Organization for Women, United Church of Christ, the American Friends Service Committee, True Majority, Military Families Speak Out, MoveOn.org and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
The day began with a 10 a.m. rally at the Navy Memorial. There, several thousand heard speeches by actor Sean Penn, Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Maxine Waters and Lynne Woolsey of California, and a brief greeting from Fonda.
The main rally began at 11 a.m. on the National Mall. In addition to Fonda and Jackson, actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins addressed the protesters.
Robbins mocked Bush and urged Congress to impeach the president. "Let's get him out of office before he's ruling from a bunker," Robbins said.
"Impeach Bush!" the crowd began to chant, interspersed with a few shouts of "And Cheney!"
A small contingent of active-duty service members attended the rally, wearing civilian clothes because military rules forbid them from protesting in uniform.
Tassi McKee, of Bastrop, La. who said she was a staff sergeant in the Air Force, was among about 20 active-duty service members. "I believe this has become a civil war and we are being hurt and making matters worse by staying in the middle of it," McKee said.
Veterans were more numerous. Dressed in the olive green, military-issued flight jacket that he said he wore during the invasion of Iraq while serving as a Marine sergeant, Jack Teller, 26, said he joined a caravan of vans from Greenville, N.C., because it was his duty.
"I don't like wearing the jacket because it reminds me that I participated in an immoral and illegal war," Teller said, "Iraq Veterans Against the War" stenciled on the back of his jacket. "But it's important to make a political statement."
Material from Gannett News Service, The New York Times, The Associated Press and Seattle Times staff is included in this report.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company