WASHINGTON—Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters rallied at the National Mall, marched to the Capitol and sent a unified message to their newly elected lawmakers Saturday: "Bring our troops home."
Although the throng appeared to fall short of the overwhelming turnout sought by rally organizers, it did draw out actress Jane Fonda, who said she hadn't attended an anti-war rally in 34 years. Fonda said she had worried that her words would hurt the effort to end the war.
"But silence is no longer an option," said Fonda, who waged a highly controversial campaign against the Vietnam War.
The rally was organized by United for Peace and Justice, which aimed to bring protesters from 30 states across the country. Simultaneously, anti-war rallies were staged at scores of other U.S. cities.
High-profile speakers such as Fonda, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and actors Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon called for an end to the war. Also taking the stage were war veterans and members of Congress, including Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey of California, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and John Conyers of Michigan.
On Monday, hundreds are expected to remain in Washington to blitz Capitol Hill, lobbying their representatives in Congress during a week in which the Senate is scheduled to take up a resolution rejecting President Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
Iraq war veterans are also scheduled to begin a two-day, seven-state tour Monday, targeting senators who voted against the resolution passed last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Many of the speakers Saturday wanted Congress to do far more than pass a resolution of displeasure.
Kucinich, who plans to run for president again in 2008, said it's time for Congress not only to cut off funding for the war and bring the troops home, but to close all bases in Iraq.
Moriah Arnold, a 12-year-old sixth grader from Harvard, Mass., said Bush and other leaders lied to Americans when the country went to war in Iraq.
"We want to end the war now," said Arnold, who started a petition drive at her school.
Raed Jarrar, Iraq project director at Global Exchange, said the only way to stop Iraqi violence is to withdraw U.S. troops.
"We want this occupation to end now," said Jarrar, an Iraqi. "We know how to run our country by ourselves."
In the crowd, a protester dressed as the grim reaper held a sign: "Death thanks George Bush for all the overtime."
David Bednarczuk, 56, said he traveled for 24 hours from Minnesota to hold Congress accountable.
"We put them in office to deal with the war," he said. "If this Bush isn't going to listen to the people, then this Congress is going to have to make him listen."
Eighteen-year-old Megan Lytle of Maine said she hoped her voice, combined with thousands of others, would make a difference and that lawmakers would listen.
"If the people rise up, the government can't stand up against us," she said.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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