WASHINGTON—Antiwar groups escalated their protests on the brink of war Monday with organizers vowing that the arrest of 54 demonstrators at the U.S. Capitol was just the start of a wave of civil disobedience.
"Some will say the peace movement is over when the bombs drop, but we're going to keep organizing and keep agitating," said the Rev. Grayland Hagler, a Congregational minister, as he exhorted about 200 demonstrators who marched on Congress.
Outside the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, 45 antiwar activists, including Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, were arrested for violating a "no demonstration" zone.
In San Francisco, 40 demonstrators were arrested trying to disrupt the financial district. Some used body bags to try to block the British Consulate during a "die-in" demonstration.
Rallies and marches for or against a U.S. invasion of Iraq spread throughout the country as it became clear that war was imminent. Eight opponents of the war were arrested in Traverse City, Mich., after they tried to block a convoy of Army Reserve vehicles.
Although opinion polls now indicate that President Bush has popular support, it wasn't expressed in demonstrations Monday, nearly all of which were anti-war.
In a large event supportive of an Iraqi invasion, about 6,000 gathered Sunday for a "Rally for America" outside Valley Forge, Pa. , where they raised a huge U.S. flag.
More than 7,000 candlelight protest vigils, organized through the Internet, were held simultaneously Sunday night. The gatherings ranged in size from thousands in Washington, Chicago, Denver and several European cities to a few dozen in Ala-Too Square in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
In Washington Monday, when the protesters reached the spacious west lawn of the Capitol, where Bush was inaugurated two years ago, they faced a phalanx of 55 Capitol Police officers, including six on horseback.
In groups of three and four, including several relatives of Sept. 11 victims, protesters stepped across a police line and were promptly but politely arrested. The demonstrators were brandishing oversized, mock "blank checks" to symbolize the authority Congress had granted Bush to attack Iraq.
"We went through phenomenal pain when our son Bob died at the World Trade Center, and now I'm so depressed that his death is being misused to justify this war," said Robert McIlvaine, 58, of Philadelphia, who wore a blue blazer and Princeton cap.
"I haven't been arrested before but now is the time," he said, before police put plastic handcuffs on him.
Organizers said they will increase acts of nonviolent civil disobedience this week, even if it risks a backlash as many Americans rally behind U.S. troops going into combat.
"When you're at the point that war begins, that's when many people feel they have to take the strongest action they can," said Gordon Clark, national coordinator of Iraq Pledge of Resistance.
"There will be a `rally round the flag' effect, but it's not deep, because of all the anxiety over what this war will mean."
He predicted civil disobedience and arrests in at least 50 U.S. cities when war begins.
Some Republican leaders on Capitol Hill said wartime meant it was time to close ranks behind U.S. policies.
"There is a proper time and place for vigorous debate, but now is the time for America to speak with one voice," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "In the weeks and months ahead, let us rededicate ourselves to our common mission, the defense of freedom."
But several protesters criticized Congress for avoiding serious debate on Iraq policy after giving Bush authority in October to attack Saddam Hussein.
"Congress abdicated its responsibility and what are they doing now? Renaming French fries—it's just absurd," said Kelly Campbell, whose brother-in-law, Army Pfc. Craig Amundson, was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-PROTESTS