By Michael Ruane and Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 28, 2007
A raucous and colorful multitude of protesters, led by some of the aging activists of the past, staged a series of rallies and a march on the Capitol yesterday to demand that the United States end its war in Iraq.
Under a blue sky with a pale midday moon, tens of thousands of people angry about the war and other policies of the Bush administration danced, sang, shouted and chanted their opposition.
They came from across the country and across the activist spectrum, with a wide array of grievances. Many seemed to be under 30, but there were others who said they had been at the famed war protests of the 1960s and '70s.
They came to Washington at what they said was a moment of opportunity to push the new Congress to take action against the war, even as the Bush administration is accelerating plans to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq. This week, the Senate will begin debating a resolution of disapproval of the president's Iraq policy, setting up a dramatic confrontation with the White House.
Some protesters plan to stay and lobby their representatives in Congress. Other antiwar activists intend to barnstorm states this week urging senators to oppose the troop escalation.
Yesterday's crowd was large and vociferous, but its size was unclear because there was no official crowd estimate. It was filled with longtime opponents of the conflict and of the administration.
"Its primary value is that it keeps up the pressure," said former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "There is a sense that by summer, a march like this will be two or three times as large."
The demonstrators were garbed in many colors and T-shirts and buttons of many sentiments. "Think," read one shirt. "It's not illegal yet." A button read: "Kill your lawn." Read another: "Trees Hate You."
But the overriding complaint was the U.S. prosecution of the war in Iraq.
"Peace is controversial," civil rights and community activist Jesse Jackson, 65, said in a rousing address to the crowd gathered at the east end of the Mall. "But so is war. The fruit of peace is so much sweeter."
Some came for relatives in the service. A New York woman came on behalf of her younger brother, who she said was about to be deployed to Iraq. She had a framed picture of him in a knapsack. An Akron, Ohio, woman came with her infant son, saying his father, in the Navy in Kuwait, had yet to see him.
Oriana Futrell, 21, of Spokane, Wash., came with a sign that said: "Bring my husband home now." She said her husband, Dan, an Army lieutenant, was in Baghdad. They were married in April. She said she was weary of attending military funerals.
Among the celebrities who appeared was Jane Fonda, the 69-year-old actress and activist who was criticized for sympathizing with the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. She told the crowd that this was the first time she had spoken at an antiwar rally in 34 years.
"I've been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new antiwar movement," she told the crowd. "But silence is no longer an option."
Fonda said she was attending with her daughter and two grandchildren. "I'm very proud that they're here, but I'm so sad that we still have to do this, that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War," she said.
She concluded by saying, "God bless." And someone in the crowd yelled: "All right, Janey!"
But Fonda's presence drew counter protesters. Members of the Free Republic group picketed an antiwar rally at the Navy Memorial where Fonda spoke earlier in the day. "Hanoi Jane," one of the conservative group's signs read. "Wrong then, wrong now."
The day's events unfolded peacefully. And after a cold morning with temperatures in the mid-20s, the day quickly warmed, and protesters were unzipping jackets as the mercury topped 50 degrees.
The crowd, while exuberant, seemed significantly smaller than the half-million people organizers said were present and may not have matched similar protests in September 2005 and January 2003. The throng filled much of the Mall between Third and Fourth streets NW but thinned toward Seventh Street.
It was big enough, though, that the march that followed the rallies stretched the length of the route from the Mall, up Constitution Avenue to the east front of the Capitol and back to the Mall.
The day's events were organized chiefly by United for Peace and Justice, which describes itself as a coalition of 1,400 local and national organizations. Among them are the National Organization for Women, United Church of Christ, the American Friends Service Committee, True Majority, Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Farms Not Arms, CODEPINK, MoveOn.org and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.
The day began with a 10 a.m. rally at the Navy Memorial sponsored by the peace group CODEPINK. There, several thousand activists heard speeches by actor Sean Penn, presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Lynne Woolsey (D-Calif.), and a brief greeting from Fonda.
But the most moving words were Futrell's.
"My husband deployed last June to Iraq," she said. "He is an Army infantry officer currently patrolling the streets of Baghdad. And I just have to say I'm sick of attending the funerals of my friends. I have seen the weeping majors. I have seen the weeping colonels. I am sick of the death."
"I don't know what else to say, other than: 'Bring them home,' " she said. "It is time. We need to bring them home where they can be safe."
The main rally began at 11 a.m. on the Mall and featured more speeches and a crowd that seemed to grow as the weather warmed.
In addition to Fonda and Jackson, actors Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins addressed the protesters.
Robbins mocked President Bush, urging Congress to impeach him.
"Let's get him out of office before he's ruling from a bunker," Robbins said.
"Impeach Bush!'' the crowd began to chant, interspersed with a few shouts of "And Cheney!"
"Richard Nixon talked to the walls," Robbins continued. "But George Bush is talking to God. But it is not a God I recognize. This God seems to be giving Bush a pass" on some commandments.
Colin Fallon, who works at the Government Accountability Office, and his wife, Melinda, a history professor at George Mason University, came to the demonstration from Fairfax with their three children.
Melinda Fallon guided her son through the crowd, talking about Americans. "They can say when they don't agree with what's going on," she told him.
"We're looking at more or less a 30-years-war here," Colin Fallon said. "All the indications are bad. I think about these kids. If they were asked to fight, would I think they would be able to help the situation as soldiers? I don't think so. I think it has become something of a war of attrition."
Laura Sinderbrand, 79, and her husband, Alvin, 84, of New York, said they attended dozens of Washington protests against the Vietnam War during the 1960s and early '70s.
"The biggest difference back then, of course, was the draft," said Alvin Sinderbrand, a retired patent lawyer. "That made everything much more emotional. There was a sense that everybody was vulnerable."
The Sinderbrands were opposed to involvement in Iraq from the beginning, they said, and attended a 2003 protest here. Yesterday, the couple rode down on the train and planned to return home in the evening.
"We're doing it with the hope that it's going to be the last time we need to protest this," said Laura Sinderbrand, a retired museum director.
Kim Brenegar, 46, of the Capitol Hill neighborhood attended with her son Julian, 12.
"Of late, I've become very numb to the front-page reporting of deaths," she said. "And that's kind of problem for me. We've all become so used to it, it's the norm. I hope today's event will wake up a lot of people and demonstrate that this doesn't have to go on, we can stop this."
Julian added: "I don't like the war. I just think it's so stupid that we're there and it's pointless."
As the events went on, Johnny "Satchmo" T., of Northeast Washington, sat on a plastic bucket at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue -- his regular spot -- and played a haunting version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" on his bent trumpet.
"They're lucky that they can do stuff" like that, he said of the protesters. "Some countries don't even let people do stuff like that."
Staff writers Ruben Castenada, Megan Greenwell, Michael Laris, Sue Anne Pressley Montes, Katherine Shaver and Rick Weiss and staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.