Big antiwar rallies set for L.A., D.C. and other cities Saturday

Times Staff Writers

Emboldened by the Democratic takeover of Congress and shrinking public support for the Iraq war, antiwar groups are planning what they hope will be a massive protest Saturday on the National Mall.

Similar events are planned in dozens of cities around the country, with some of the largest expected in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Organizers said they aim to put pressure on both the White House and Congress to end the war.

“The message will be ‘Mr. President, bring our troops home,’ ” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), one of several politicians, activists and actors scheduled to speak in Washington.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, one of the rally sponsors, is also scheduled to appear on the mall, organizers said. Others on the lineup are Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, a longshot candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and actors Jane Fonda, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.


“We’re predicting this will be one of the largest demonstrations since the war began,” said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella group organizing the Washington protest.

About 300 busloads of protesters are traveling from more than 30 states to attend the rally, said United for Peace and Justice spokesman Hany Khalil.

Sgt. Scott Booker of the U.S. Park Police said organizers had initially requested a permit for 50,000 people on the mall, but Khalil said Thursday that organizers are now expecting hundreds of thousands. When asked if he thought the revised estimate was realistic, Booker said, “It’s quite possible.”

In Los Angeles, about 100 groups are planning to gather downtown. Organizers expect tens of thousands of marchers, including many bused in from Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Rallies are also planned in San Francisco, San Diego, Mount Shasta and Palm Springs.

The Los Angeles protest is to begin at noon outside the California Democratic Party’s Los Angeles office at 888 S. Figueroa St., with participants marching past City Hall to the federal building at 300 N. Los Angeles St.

Speakers will include Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in Iraq and became a symbol of the antiwar movement after camping out in protest near President Bush’s Texas ranch, and Ron Kovic, the antiwar activist and Vietnam veteran who wrote “Born on the Fourth of July.”

About 300 soldiers from California have been killed in Iraq, more than from any other state.

The protests come at a time when polls show public support for Bush’s Iraq policy and for the war at all-time lows. A Times/Bloomberg poll last week found that 62% of those surveyed said the war was not worth fighting, and only one-third approved of the president’s handling of the war. Three out of five respondents said they disapproved of Bush’s plan to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq, and about half said they wanted Congress to prevent the deployment.

Saturday’s rally and march in Washington will be followed by a coordinated lobbying effort Monday to pressure lawmakers into supporting Senate and House resolutions against the deployment of additional troops to Iraq. Cagan said about 800 protesters are planning to speak with members of Congress.

Former Rep. Tom Andrews (D-Maine), national director of Win Without War, said the rally and appeal to lawmakers are part of the “most sophisticated and focused effort so far” against the war. Organizers are also calling on Congress to fully fund benefits for veterans and pay for reconstruction in Iraq. “This is truly a movement,” Andrews said. “We intend to step up and keep up pressure on Congress.”

He added that plans by lawmakers to pass nonbinding resolutions against the war, such as one approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, are not enough.

Schreck reported from Washington and Reitman from Los Angeles.