Rousing, Emotional Start for War Protest

In a cold rain, organizers with a Gathering of Eagles, a counterprotest group, assemble a stage on the Mall near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
In a cold rain, organizers with a Gathering of Eagles, a counterprotest group, assemble a stage on the Mall near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Steve Vogel and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dozens of demonstrators, many of them Christian peace activists, were arrested outside the White House late last night and early this morning as part of a protest against the war in Iraq.

About 11:30 p.m., police began handcuffing the first of about 100 protesters who had assembled on the White House sidewalk to pray in a planned act of civil disobedience.

The protesters were part of a larger group that had assembled at the Washington National Cathedral for a service on the fourth anniversary of the start of the war. From the service, demonstrators marched through the wind, cold and dampness to the White House.

The demonstration began a weekend of protest that is to include a march on the Pentagon today. Last night's event, which was sponsored by more than two dozen religious groups, was not part of today's antiwar rally at the Pentagon.

Those who were arrested had been among almost 3,000 people who assembled at the cathedral at 7 p.m. for a rousing, emotional service that lasted more than 90 minutes.

Participants, whom the cathedral staff numbered at 2,825, heard speakers including Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004.

"I am here tonight as a witness to the true cost of war," she said, "the betrayal and madness that is the war in Iraq."

"We lay before God the sorrow that lives in all of us because of the war," she said.

Last night's procession was sponsored by Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.

Meanwhile, organizers of the march on the Pentagon expressed concern that the storm hitting the Northeast might affect turnout.

Protest leaders said they still expect tens of thousands of people for the march, which will begin at 12:30 p.m. north of the Lincoln Memorial and cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon's north parking lot for a rally. Organizers are tying the protest to the 40th anniversary of the 1967 march on the Pentagon against the Vietnam War, saying it represents similar public anger.

Airlines canceled many flights in the Northeast yesterday, and driving conditions were poor. Organizers said many contingents from some of the hardest-hit areas, including New England and New York, are scheduled to travel in bus and car caravans.

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