About 200 people gathered in Lafayette Square near the White House yesterday to protest the war in Iraq and demand the withdrawal of U.S.-led occupation forces. Then they took to the streets of Northwest Washington chanting: "No justice! No peace! U.S. out of the Middle East!"
The demonstration and march were peaceful. But the rhetoric was strident, recalling the Vietnam War protests of the 1960s on a much smaller scale.
Protesters march on H Street in Northwest Washington in an antiwar demonstration organized by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Rallies also were scheduled in 50 other U.S. cities.
(Photos Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
"The Bush administration is a murderous regime, trying to strip the rights of the Iraqi people," shouted Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, member of the steering committee for International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which organized the rally in Washington and protests in 50 other U.S. cities. Organizers estimated overall participation at "tens of thousands."
"We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq and in other countries," Verheyden-Hilliard told a crowd of people of varied ages and ethnic backgrounds. "We tell them that we [the American people] are not their enemy, and we will work to bring this war to an end."
Organizers said they called for the emergency protest Tuesday night after U.S.-led occupation forces surrounded the city of Fallujah and 2,500 U.S. Marines entered the city in search of insurgents who had killed and mutilated four U.S. contract workers last week. Medical officials in Fallujah have said that at least 450 Iraqis have been killed there since Tuesday.
Other speakers -- from Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada, the Free Palestine Alliance and Mexico Solidarity Network -- demanded the impeachment of President Bush for crimes against humanity and accused the United States of hiring unscrupulous mercenaries to guard Iraq's oil fields. They lashed out at corporations being paid billions of dollars to do work in Iraq and accused the United States of wanting to control Iraqi oil.
"What they're saying is correct," said T.J. Myers, 28, a bystander who said he recently returned from a year's military service in Baghdad and left the Army after a seven-year enlistment.
"It's all about money," said Myers, who lives in Fort Benning, Ga., and was in Washington on vacation. "It's my first time in D.C., and I have never seen so many homeless people in my life and right near the White House. How can we send [billions] to another country when we have so many people in trouble here?"
Many in the crowd cheered the speakers and held bright green signs that said: "U.S. Out of Iraq. Self-determination. Not Colonial Occupation."
Some observers applauded softly while others stood quietly by their bicycles or listened from park benches.
District resident Don Harward, who identified himself as a retired educator who opposes the war, said he came to the protest to see what ideas the organizers might offer about ending the military quagmire in Iraq.
"I'm not impressed with what I've been hearing from the administrative leadership, and I'm not impressed with the idealistic rhetoric of rallies like this," Harward said. "I'd like to hear solutions. But I don't hear solutions."
The demonstration was interrupted briefly by Rahim Al Shumary, who identified himself as an Iraqi American and a Shiite. He began yelling from the sidelines that most Iraqis welcome the presence of the U.S.-led occupation forces and that the militants who are attacking the coalition forces come from Syria and other countries.
"America did a good job for the Iraqi people. Saddam, he did worse," Shumary said as he was pushed away from the protest area by two policemen and was swarmed by reporters from international news organizations.
Some observers along the two-hour parade route, north to Adams Morgan and back to Lafayette Square, cheered the protesters. Others watched quietly but approved the message and supported the protesters' right to demonstrate.
"It's time [to] get our boys out of that country," said Melvin McClain, 45, outside Central Union Mission on 14th Street.
"I'm happy to see the protest," said John Gallietta, 44, a communications engineer and 10-year Army veteran visiting from Sacramento. Part of being a democracy is having the freedom to express your views, he said.