Thousands join bicoastal war protest
About 100,000 antiwar protesters from around the country converged Saturday on the National Mall, galvanized by opposition to President Bush’s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq.
Protests attended by several thousand people also were held in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities. But the demonstration in the nation’s capital was among the biggest since the war began.
Joining the Washington rally were several members of the House of Representatives and a few Hollywood liberal activists, including Jane Fonda, who said it was her first antiwar demonstration in 34 years.
“Silence is no longer an option,” said Fonda, once derided as Hanoi Jane for her opposition to the Vietnam War. She was flanked by actors Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
Although longshot presidential contender Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) made an appearance, the demonstration failed to lure the big guns of Democratic politics, such as presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)
“If I was Barack Obama, I would be up there,” said Will Ehrenfeld, 18, a freshman at Tufts University.
Martin Freed, 60, of Alaska, said Democratic leaders were “cowards” for skipping the protest. “They ought to be out here addressing us,” he said.
Signs focused on Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq. “A surge seems like the wrong way to go,” said Sarah Bratz, 28, of Rockland, Maine.
Under sunshine that made the day feel like spring, others stood with brightly colored placards bearing slogans such as “Bush Bin Lyin” and “Civil War Accomplished.”
Shirin Afssous, an Iranian American, was among those who said they worried that Bush intended to expand the war into Iran. “The troops need to come home,” the Fairfax, Va., resident said.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) pledged not to vote for “one dime for this war,” then led the protesters in a chant mocking the president: “He’s not the decider; he is a liar.”
Fonda drew cheers. She said she had stayed away from antiwar rallies out of concern that the “lies spread about me” would harm the movement.
“Thank you so much for the courage to stand up to this mean-spirited, vengeful administration,” she said.
There were some counterprotests at the edge of the crowd. And at one point, more than 100 protesters broke away and rushed up the front lawn of the Capitol, sending police scrambling. But U.S. Park Police said there were no arrests.
In Los Angeles, about 3,000 marchers wound through downtown on a cold, rainy afternoon, demanding in often angry speeches an immediate military withdrawal from Iraq.
They staged the first of two rallies outside the Democratic Party headquarters at 9th and Figueroa streets, intending to send a message to those now in control of Congress.
“The Democrats, like the Republicans, voted for this war because they, like the Republicans, believe that the oil in Iraq belongs to us,” said Jim Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles National Lawyers Guild.
One man, dressed as Jesus, carried a sign saying, “Even I can only forgive so much, George.” Dozens of signs declared “Impeach Bush.”
Leading the march were prominent antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed while serving in Iraq, and Ron Kovic, the disabled Vietnam veteran who wrote “Born on the 4th of July.”
“I’m seeing soldiers and veterans like myself who trusted and believed at first and who are realizing they’ve been lied to,” Kovic said.
Sheehan, a Bellflower native, expressed disappointment at the size of the protest.
“There’s definitely a groundswell growing. I just wish it was growing faster,” she said. “If half the people of Los Angeles who disagree with this war were here, then we would have miles of people.”
A small group of counterprotesters gleefully needled the marchers with a bullhorn.
“Shame on Cindy Sheehan for dragging around her dead son like some kind of Hollywood prop!” Reuben Israel yelled.
In San Francisco, many of the marchers were middle-age or beyond. Jan Harwood, 75, came up from Santa Cruz. “Older people tend to be more aware,” the retired psychiatric social worker said.
Sheila Savannah, 60, a retired librarian visiting from Arizona, said, “I thought we learned our lesson in Vietnam, but obviously we didn’t.”
Organizers had hoped to muster tens of thousands, but fell well short of that. The crowd swelled to several thousand once the march got underway.
“This came up at the last minute,” said Barbara Blong, a housing activist. She motioned to a neighboring mall. “People are shopping instead.”
They’ll get another chance. Organizers were already handing out leaflets for the next demonstration, in March.
Schreck reported from Washington, Streitfeld from
San Francisco and Khalil from
Los Angeles. Times staff writers Stacy A. Anderson and Julian E. Barnes in Washington contributed to this report.