WASHINGTON—Thousands of protestors from across the country marched from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the White House on Saturday to oppose a first strike U.S. attack on Iraq.
Organizers, hoping for the largest anti-war protest in Washington since the Vietnam era, were expecting 100,000 participants. While no official headcount was available on the crisp autumn afternoon, most agreed the turnout—while robust—fell short of that.
As the marchers made their way up Constitution Avenue and circled the White House, protestors in San Francisco, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo and Mexico City held similar rallies to oppose a U.S. attack on Iraq. About 1,500 rain-soaked protestors also demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark on Saturday.
Despite polls that show strong public support for an attack, demonstrators contend that the Bush administration hasn't proven the need for a preemptive strike against Iraq. Many also want greater international support from U.S. allies.
The crowd was a colorful mix of peace activists, Vietnam-era protestors, students, veterans groups, avowed socialists and many of their children and dogs.
"This is old, young, black, white, Christians, Jews, Muslims. This is the real America and we're finally being heard," said 26-year-old Simone X, of New York City who toted a sign stating "war is not an option."
The Rev. Jane Esdale of Charlotte, N.C., who works for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, agreed.
"In my experience, these kinds of demonstrations have been mostly white middle-class people," Esdale said. "This is much more representative of our country."
The throng of speakers included activist actress Susan Sarandon and the Rev. Jesse Jackson who said the talk of an attack was designed to divert attention from the struggling economy.
"In two years we've gone from surplus to deficits.
We've lost 3 million jobs, $8 trillion in stock market value. Unemployment's up, poverty's up. It seems the issue is not imminent threat, but imminent politics," Jackson told his enthusiastic listeners.
Iraqi-born Karim Yatooma of Detroit came to the rally along with members of the American-Iraqi Friendship Federation.
Yatooma, 68, who noted that he is an American citizen, said any attack on Iraq would only hurt innocent people. Yatooma had some tough questions for President Bush.
"Why do you want to destroy 21 million innocent people?" he said. Iraqi President Saddam "Hussein is one person. What are you going to tell the world when the bombs hit and the news cameras show the leg of a child over here or the hand of an innocent woman over there? What will you tell the world, Mr. Bush?"
Laurie Mulvey, 38, a lecturer at Penn State University in State College, said she knows no way to rid Iraq of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons but is completely against the war.
"Increased militarism is not going to guarantee national security," she said.
"The sniper was a perfect example that there is no way we can completely rid ourselves of a threat," Mulvey continued. "There is no way we can prevent true terrorism by wiping out a people and a regime."
Bob and Lisa Barber of Hiddenite, N.C., boarded a bus from Charlotte at midnight EDT Friday to attend the march. Before it, Barber, 50, a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, made his first visit to the Vietnam memorial where he broke down in tears remembering friends and fellow soldiers who lost their lives.
"It was too much. I couldn't take it," Barber said. "When we look at what the results of that war were and how many people died, was it worth it? That's basically what we're getting into again in Iraq. It has no meaning."
Barber, who owns a pet store, said the administration should be focusing more on the economy. Just two weeks ago, Lisa Barber, 46, lost her job of 14 years at a company that makes wooden reels used for telecommunications cable.
"The fiber optic industry is gone, now we're gone," Barber said. "The economy is the thing. Why do we need to be in Iraq?" There are other countries with arms and I don't see them trying to go in there," she said.
Karl Elder, 71, a retired civilian worker at the Pentagon who came to the protest with his wife, said he wanted to make his voice heard. "We haven't marched for so long we've almost forgotten how," Elder said.
"We have to show that not everybody's opinions are being reflected in the polls."
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ