Thousands demand end to Iraq war in protest
Antiwar icon Jane Fonda joins marchers in the call to bring troops home.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published January 28, 2007
WASHINGTON - Convinced this is their moment, tens of thousands marched Saturday in an antiwar demonstration linking military families, ordinary people and an icon of the Vietnam protest movement in a spirited call to get out of Iraq.
Celebrities, a half-dozen lawmakers and protesters from distant states rallied in the capital under a sunny sky, seizing an opportunity to press their cause with a Congress restive on the war and a country that has turned against the conflict that has killed more than 3,000 U.S. service members, including seven whose deaths were reported Saturday.
Marching with them was Jane Fonda, in what she said was her first antiwar demonstration in 34 years.
"Silence is no longer an option," Fonda said to cheers from the stage on the National Mall. The actor once derided as "Hanoi Jane" by conservatives for her stance on Vietnam said she had held back from activism so as not to be a distraction for the Iraq antiwar movement, but needed to speak out now. Actors Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins also spoke.
The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. John Conyers, threatened to use congressional spending power to try to stop the war.
"George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing," he said, looking out at the masses. "He can't fire you." Referring to Congress, the Michigan Democrat added: "He can't fire us.
"The founders of our country gave our Congress the power of the purse because they envisioned a scenario exactly like we find ourselves in today. Not only is it in our power, it is our obligation to stop Bush."
White House spokesman Trey Bohn responded that Conyers "needs to learn the difference between fact and fable, between a sound bite and a slur." He said Conyers' "assertion that the president fires generals with whom he disagrees is flat wrong."
The rally on the Mall unfolded peacefully, although about 300 protesters tried to rush the Capitol, running up the grassy lawn to the front of the building. Police on motorcycles tried to stop them, scuffling with some and barricading entrances.
Protesters chanted "Our Congress" as their numbers grew and police faced off against them.
Demonstrators later joined the masses marching from the Mall, around Capitol Hill and back.
About 50 demonstrators blocked a street near the Capitol for about 30 minutes, but they were dispersed without arrests.
United for Peace and Justice, a coalition group sponsoring the protest, had hoped 100,000 would come. They claimed even more afterward, but police, who no longer give official estimates, said privately the crowd was smaller than 100,000. Protest organizers said the crowd included people who came on 300 buses from 40 states. Smaller rallies were held in other cities.
Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, said more than 100 veterans from the Iraq war participated in the march and several hundred veterans from previous wars attended as well.
Fernando Braga, a 24-year-old Bronx native who is a member of the Army National Guard, said that he was skeptical of the war before it started. Braga said his views hardened into opposition while he served in Iraq from March 2004 through January 2005.
"My own commander told us when we arrived that if we thought we were there for any reason other than oil then we had another thing coming," he said. "I realized even commanding officers were against it but following orders."
In the crowd, signs recalled the November elections that defeated the Republican congressional majority in part because of President Bush's Iraq policy.
"I voted for peace," one said.
"I've just gotten tired of seeing widows, tired of seeing dead Marines," said Vincent DiMezza, 32, wearing a dress Marine uniform from his years as a sergeant. A Marine aircraft mechanic from 1997 to 2002, he did not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
About 40 people staged a counterprotest, including Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, who lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq.
He said the antiwar protesters, especially those who are veterans or who are on active duty, "need to remember the sacrifice we have made and what our fallen comrades would say if they were alive."
Bush reaffirmed his commitment to his planned troop increase in a phone conversation Saturday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The president was in Washington for the weekend, even though he is often is out of town during big protest days.
"He understands that Americans want to see a conclusion to the war in Iraq and the new strategy is designed to do just that," said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.
[Last modified January 28, 2007, 00:14:49]
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