Thousands of people protesting a looming U.S.-led war against Iraq marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, with many chanting, "We want peace!"
According to police, the crowd numbered between 5,000 and 7,000. Many wore their opinions, such as "No War" or "Don't Cut Medicare for Bombs and Missiles," on T-shirts, buttons and baseball caps. Organizers estimated the crowd at 15,000, said Karin Pally, who helped put on the event.
Sponsored by KPFK-FM (90.7) radio and several peace organizations, the protest began just after 11:30 a.m. and ended about 5 p.m., after a march to the Federal Building at Temple and Los Angeles streets.
"All of these people here symbolize one idea: Let's not kill," said Onalysa Flynn, 19, a Los Angeles Valley College student who was attending her first protest. "Why isn't there another way? There's got to be another way."
At the Federal Building, rock singers, poets, activists and actor Martin Sheen, star of the NBC series "The West Wing," denounced war over loudspeakers. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack also took part in the event, which was a precursor to a series of upcoming demonstrations set to take place in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
The rally, monitored by police but with no arrests, followed President Bush's announcement that the U.S. will deploy 62,000 more U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf because of Iraq's continued efforts to manufacture nuclear arms and its refusal to cooperate with United Nations inspections.
Marc Hewitt, 24, of Los Angeles said war is being peddled by Bush for selfish reasons.
"I believe we're going to war for oil," said Hewitt, who attended the rally with his girlfriend, Natalie Wilson, 23, of Long Beach.
Wilson said this demonstration will send a powerful message, but just as important, "it will keep people sane."
"We feel powerless. But when you see people here who are like-minded, it feels good."
Marchers made their way toward the Federal Building via Broadway, passing jewelry and clothing shops, magazine stands and pizza parlors. Weekend shoppers stopped on sidewalks to watch, while some store owners stepped out from behind their registers to view the mile-long parade as it passed.
"I didn't know there would be this many people against war," said George Mobasseri, who owns Modern Broadway, a jeans boutique.
The smell of burning incense and sage lingered. The sound of beating drums echoed down street blocks. Meanwhile, children and adults who live in high-rise apartment complexes on Broadway peered down toward the street, some waving flags in support.
The crowd included Muslim women wearing head scarfs, a man in a suit and tie, an elderly woman with a walking cane, children wearing peace signs on their T-shirts, people in dreadlocks, mohawks and a Princeton University baseball cap.
There was 83-year-old Irja Lloyd, of the Sunset Hall retirement home in the Mid-Wilshire district, who came in her wheelchair with a bowl of grapes and a sign that read: "Speak Your Peace."
"I'm here because I believe in peace, and I have seen too much war," she said.
There was 5-year-old Naima Orozco of Alhambra, who pumped her fists in the air and cheered when an announcer yelled: "You cannot have peace by bombing innocent children and families."
Naima's mother, Irma Valdivia, said she brought her daughter because she wanted her to learn about freedom of speech.
Bonnie Morrison, 46, said when she heard about the demonstration she put on her walking shoes and headed downtown from Pasadena.
"My heart is in this," she said, adding that it was her first protest. The imminent war with Iraq, and the possible large-scale death and devastation it may cause, pushed her to take part in the event, she said.
"At least, if it happens, I know I did what I could to stop it," she said. "I just hope this administration hears us."