Protesters from more than 135 cities in 38 states are expected to converge on Washington on Saturday, as busloads of antiwar demonstrators return to the capital for the first time since the fall of Baghdad in April.
Organizers said the rally and march will draw tens of thousands from across the United States and Canada. It is the first event of its kind co-sponsored by two major antiwar coalitions, International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice, both of which coordinated some of the country's biggest peace marches this year. The demonstration will coincide with a rally and march in downtown San Francisco.
Fliers for a Saturday march and rally sponsored by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice are distributed at Howard University.
(Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
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"The antiwar movement is becoming ascendant again; it's rising once more," ANSWER organizer Brian Becker said. "Our demonstration against the occupation on April 12 drew 30,000 people. We will draw substantially more than that for this demonstration."
The gathering represents a resurgence of sorts of the antiwar movement, which had put its large-scale protests on hold in recent months as activists emphasized education over direct action. No major antiwar rally has been held in Washington since ANSWER's April protest.
ANSWER held a national conference in New York in May that drew more than 850 activists, and United for Peace and Justice sponsored a strategy session in suburban Chicago in June that attracted more than 550. The meetings were designed to focus the movement on charting its future, but the period of relative quiet also allowed some to find new strength to carry on.
"People marched and demonstrated a whole lot to try to stop the war, and we weren't able to," said Leslie Cagan, 56, national coordinator of the United coalition. "That had, I think, for some segments of the activist community, a little bit of a demoralizing effect."
But as the number of U.S. casualties increases and as support for Bush's Iraq policy slips in polls, antiwar activists say the time is right to return to the streets. "Where are those weapons of mass destruction?" Cagan asked. "It turned out to be lies. As strongly as we felt we were right a year ago, we're even stronger in that conviction now."
Activists say they expect several veterans and family members of U.S. soldiers in Iraq to participate. Last October, Wilson "Woody" Powell, a 71-year-old Korean War veteran, filled his scratched 1997 Dodge Caravan with three other veterans -- one each from the first Persian Gulf War, World War II and the Korean War -- for a 14-hour trip from St. Louis to Washington. They headed to a peace rally, stirred by what they felt would be an unjust war in Iraq and hopeful that they and scores of others could make enough noise to stop it before it started.
One year later, with the war fought and declared over, Powell hasn't given up. He and more than 500 members of Veterans for Peace are expected to head to Washington next weekend to call for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. "Is this how to cohabit on the globe, by just being bigger and badder than everybody else? Or are we much more comfortable being good neighbors?" asked Powell, executive director of the St. Louis-based group.
Nancy Lessin with Military Families Speak Out said spouses, parents and siblings of military personnel stationed in Iraq or recently returned home are planning to attend. She expects 40 or more families. "None of us want our loved ones to be misused in the way that this administration is misusing them, in a war for oil markets and empire building," said Lessin, a co-founder of the group that started with two military families in November and has grown to more than 1,000 members. Lessin's son is a Marine who returned recently from Iraq.
A listing of cities organizing bus and car caravans posted on ANSWER's Web site reads like a map of much of the United States: Wilmington, Del.; Harrisburg, Pa.; Savannah, Ga.; Asheville, N.C.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Cedar Falls, Iowa; and Milwaukee.
New York's union representing 200,000 health and human services employees, 1199 SEIU, is providing free bus transportation to Washington for its members and their families. And ANSWER has reserved 65 buses for the New York area alone.
"I think that people want the occupation to end," said Mike Shaw, 35, a restaurant supervisor with the ANSWER chapter in Providence, R.I. "I think they feel the war was pursued under false pretenses."
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said that his force, U.S. Park Police and U.S. Capitol Police will provide security. Ramsey said it was unclear how large the gathering will be.