About 50 Iraq war veterans led a boisterous crowd of about 4,000 protesters to the gates of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday evening, demanding to speak at the podium inside.
The four-mile march began at the site of a concert by leftist rock group Rage Against the Machine. It ended five hours later, after the Obama campaign resolved a tense standoff outside the Pepsi Center by agreeing to meet with representatives of the group, Iraq Veterans Against the War.
The marchers said they wanted to hold Obama to his promise to end the Iraq war and called for him to pull troops out immediately. The Democratic presidential candidate has instead vowed to bring all combat troops home within 16 months of taking office.
"We're here to hold the Democrat Party accountable," said Jason Hurd, one of the veterans at the front of the procession. "We voted them in to end this war. They've not done that. . . . We want our brothers and sisters to come home now, not later. Now."
The veterans march was the largest demonstration so far in what otherwise has proven to be a generally subdued week; injuries were reported, but no arrests were made.
On Monday night, police used pepper spray against a crowd of about 200 activists they said were blocking traffic; otherwise the daily demonstrations have drawn little notice.
The war protesters made their mark throughout a wide swath of Denver. They left the packed rock concert at a stadium about four miles northeast of the Democratic National Convention at about 3 p.m. local time. The Iraq war veterans, many in full uniform and chanting in a military cadence, led the procession.
"My buddy's in the foxhole with a bullet in his head," they chanted. "I called to get the medic, but he's already dead."
Behind them strung a ragtag, motley crew of concert-goers. Some were dressed in the orange uniforms of Guantanamo Bay prisoners; others carried cardboard headstones bearing the names of soldiers killed in Iraq. One woman held a sign that said: "I'll pay MORE for gas!"
The veterans drew cheers from pedestrians and delegates who crowded the sidewalks to watch them as they snaked toward the Pepsi Center. But as they approached the convention site, tensions heightened. Scores of riot police followed them to the barricades that separated the public from the convention site.
Marchers demanded to be allowed to read a letter to the convention from the podium.
"They are running a campaign based on an anti-war platform," said former Marine Lance Cpl. Jeff Key. "We want to send one veteran to read [our] letter from the podium."
As armored vehicles filled with riot police pulled up and onlookers began to crowd the marchers, the police said Key and another veteran could go inside the convention perimeter. They emerged and said the Obama campaign's veterans liaison, Phil Carter, had agreed to meet with them.
The crowd cheered and broke into the protest chant the Obama campaign has adopted: "Yes, we can!" And then the veterans marched off into the night.