Hundreds gather in Williams Park to protest the war while other rallies, including one 100,000 strong in Washington, take place around the world.
ST. PETERSBURG - They brought lawn chairs and poster board signs, names of dead soldiers, American flags, Bible verses, rock songs, Greek pasta salad and fresh fruit cups.
An estimated 400 to 500 people gathered downtown in Williams Park on Saturday to protest the war in Iraq. The event, organized by more than 20 local activist groups, was for local people unable to attend a larger protest in Washington, where roughly 100,000 marched in front of the White House and then to the Washington Monument in an 11-hour marathon of dissent against the war.
"Locally, people needed a place to voice their outrage," said the Rev. Bruce Wright of Refuge Ministries.
Local bands and speakers took the stage, including Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and outspoken critic of the Bush Administration.
As he and others talked of Bush's failures, little girls wearing pastel, tie-dye dresses danced in the shade, high school students beat on white buckets with drumsticks and men in khaki shorts fanned themselves with paper plates.
"The people of St. Petersburg are not complete puppets, as George Bush would like," said Nick Carper, a 17-year-old senior at Lakewood High, wearing sneakers and a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. "All these people are here to show their opposition to Bush. It shows the distrust, and shows the tides are turning against his administration and its lies."
Carol Schiffler, with a group called St. Pete Food Not Bombs, wore a T-shirt that read, "Food is a right, not a commodity," as she passed out plates of rice and beans and pasta. As much as the war, Schiffler has been preoccupied by the images from Hurricane Katrina, and hopes they will reveal what she believes is a flawed national economic policy that rewards corporations and neglects the poor.
"It showed everyone the real poverty and oppression," Schiffler said.
The protest - sponsored by groups including Veterans for Peace, St. Pete for Peace and Buddhist Peace Fellowship - was one of many unfolding across the world on Saturday. A crowd in London, estimated by police at 10,000, marched in support of withdrawing British troops from Iraq. In Rome, dozens of protesters held up banners and peace flags outside the U.S. Embassy and covered a sidewalk with messages and flowers in honor of those killed in Iraq.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.