WASHINGTON—At past antiwar rallies, Joe Smith of Baltimore was a lonely regular, arguing in support of invading Iraq and heckling the protesters. But on Saturday, Smith smiled, waved his signs and said, "I am in the majority."
This time he was.
As antiwar protesters amassed in their usual staging areas in Washington and talked of worldwide rallies against war, Smith stood amid a sea of red-white-and-blue American flags, yellow-and-red Vietnamese flags and handmade posters with pictures of American troops. Smith this time was part of a "Rally for our troops, rally for America," organized by Republican activists and conservative commentators, that outnumbered war opponents by about 2-to-1 in the nation's capital.
Outside the United States, protests Saturday were bigger and decidedly against the war. About 20,000 jammed city streets in a rally for peace in London. Tens of thousands rallied in Rome, Paris and Bangladesh.
The two rallies in Washington—both pro- and antiwar—were smaller, numbering in the mere single-digit thousands. They had to compete with some of the nicest weather the East Coast has had in weeks and an attitude that the war was pretty much a done deal.
The two rallies couldn't have been more different, reflecting changes on the battlefield and in public opinion polls.
Hip-hop antiwar lyrics—"drop peace, not bombs"—contrasted with country music stars singing patriotic ballads. Antiwar organizers pleaded for President Bush's impeachment over a hard-to-hear audio system, while across town war supporters watched a stadium-sized jumbo screen with slickly produced videos, celebrities and a message from the president. While the pro-war rally featured pictures of U.S. troops, the antiwar march included photos of wounded Iraqi civilians.
Both sides said they supported American troops, but differed on how that support was shown. The pro-war group cheered them and chanted "U-S-A," while the antiwar group said they wanted them home alive.
"No one needs to tell us about supporting the troops," activist Larry Holmes told the antiwar protesters. "They come from our neighborhoods. . . . We support them getting the hell of there. We support them not dying and not killing."
At the other rally, Republican Floyd Brown, the executive director of the Young America's Foundation, read the names of the U.S. troops killed in Iraq as the crowd stood silently. After several minutes of names, he concluded: "These will never be just names to us. They'll always be brothers, daughters, sons, sisters, fathers."
Irish Maliborski of Wallington, N.J., who carried a poster with a photo of her Marine corporal brother, came to her first rally because "we really support what they're doing."
Holding a poster that said, "They're selling war. We're not buying," Ella Hopson of Elizabeth, N.J., acknowledged that it was easier to rally against war before the invasion started and before it appeared to be such a success.
Made Puja, originally from Indonesia and now living in Bethlehem, Pa., brought his daughters—ages 3, 6, and 9—to the antiwar rally because, he said, it was important for them to see him working for peace. His sign said: "Peace, it's patriotic."
At the pro-war rally, antiwar activists were ridiculed and their patriotism questioned. Syndicated conservative columnist Deroy Murdock told the crowd: "Our opponents have a lot of explaining to do."
Smith, who was carrying a poster that said: "Support our troops, Support our country, Support our President or GET OUT," chided antiwar opponents because they "don't express themselves politely."
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Fawn Vrazo in London contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-PROTESTS