Dressed in the same desert fatigues he said he carried when his Marine unit invaded Iraq two years ago, Serge Louchnikov marched down Hollywood Boulevard on Saturday under a banner decrying the war. He and approximately 4,000 other protesters chanted slogans, carried cardboard coffins and mingled with bewildered tourists.
Demonstrators took to the streets Saturday in Los Angeles and San Francisco as part of nationwide protests against the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, marking the war’s second anniversary.
“I have friends over there who are dying for no reason,” said Louchnikov, 24, of Los Angeles as rain drenched his military jacket. He was discharged in October 2003. “There’s no purpose for this war, no reason why thousands of Americans and Iraqis are dying.”
Nearby, Vickie Castro carried an enlarged photo of her son, Jonathan. The 21-year-old was killed in a suicide attack in Mosul, in northern Iraq, last December.
“This is my first rally,” said Castro, 47, of Pasadena as she clutched her son’s dog tags. “I want people to know what it feels like when a mother is e-mailing her only child and a soldier rings the doorbell to say he’s dead. I’ve screamed and cried. I don’t know what else to do but march.”
Organizers said the Los Angeles rally did not match the size of previous events but that more veterans and military families participated.
About 100 Los Angeles police officers monitored the Hollywood march from astride bicycles and horses but said they made no arrests. In San Francisco, where thousands protested, police said eight people were arrested on charges of blocking an intersection
Protests also occurred in other American cities, including Chicago, Pittsburgh, Jersey City and New York, where police arrested some demonstrators.
In Los Angeles, banners urging support for labor unions and attacking President Bush’s domestic policies joined signs against the war.
“The elections in Iraq changed how we have to act,” said Muna Coobtee, 28, one of the protest’s organizers. “We have to make this about larger issues so the thousands of dead Iraqis and soldiers aren’t forgotten during protests against tax cuts.”
Traffic backed up for more than six blocks as police shut down portions of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards for the march.
Bands played rock music and protesters beat drums as participants gathered to hear speeches by Vietnam veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic, California Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) and others.
“I have to let people know there are military families against this war,” Kady Fleckenstein, 23, of Los Feliz told other protesters. Fleckenstein’s husband joined the Marine Corps after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and is stationed in Baghdad.
“Americans are starting to forget,” she said. “If we don’t scream in the streets, they’ll forget there are Americans and Iraqis dying every day.”
Police and protest organizers said the Los Angeles rally was opposed by business owners along Hollywood Boulevard. When the march concluded in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, participants encountered dozens of small girls dressed in frilly costumes waiting to see the “Ice Princess” at nearby El Capitan Theatre.
“There are six sold-out shows today, and my guests can’t cross the street because of these protesters,” said Edward Collins, who helped organize the movie event. “We asked them to reroute, but they refused.”
Others, however, said the rally was good for business.
“I sell to pro-war, antiwar, anyone with money,” said Larry Starks, 63, from behind a grocery cart filled with umbrellas and antiwar flags he sells for $5. “The people here are older than at pro-war meetings, but they’re more friendly. Everyone says ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ ”
As she waited to address the crowd from a raised stage, Vicki Castro said participating in the rally helped her quell anger stemming from her son’s death.
“He promised me he wouldn’t get killed,” she said as she cried. “I think he would be proud of me today, proud that I’m promising to end this war.”