Organizers of today's antiwar march in Washington said yesterday the demonstration likely would be as large as the one on Oct. 26, which drew an estimated 100,000.
"I believe the demonstration will be in the same range," said Brian Becker, an organizer with International ANSWER, the activist coalition coordinating an 11 a.m. rally on the Mall followed by a 1:30 p.m. march to the Washington Navy Yard. "The reports of people who are getting buses and vans has increased exponentially in the last couple of weeks."
At a news conference yesterday, Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic said the protest would help forge a powerful new movement in opposition to a U.S. military strike against Iraq. "This is an extraordinary turning point in American history," said Kovic, author of "Born on the Fourth of July," subject of the movie of the same name and one of the rally's many speakers. "This movement . . . has every intention of changing the priorities of this government."
The cold forecast for today will be difficult, many activists said, but they said they were determined -- and prepared. International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) plans to hand out thousands of toe warmers and has rented buses to idle near the rally for use as warm-up stations. "Layers, and I've got some toe warmers," explained Julie Fry, 23, one of about 50 Rutgers University students in Newark heading to Washington and figuring out ways to stay warm. "I'm just hoping it won't be that bad."
D.C. police Cmdr. Cathy Lanier, who heads the Special Operations Division, said about 525 officers from her department would be available for duty. A majority of those will be held in reserve, she said, and not sent out to the demonstration unless they are needed.
Protest organizers said they received rally and march permits from the National Park Service and D.C. police, but they expressed frustration with District police officials, who they said informed them Thursday evening that they would not be able to set up a sound system outside the Washington Navy Yard. ANSWER had planned to hold a closing rally around M and Fifth streets SE after the march, and organizers said the move by officials was intended to illegally silence them.
"We're working on alternative plans," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer and ANSWER organizer. "We intend for this demonstration to have as much sound as we need."
Lanier said protesters had not originally asked to use public-address sound equipment at the Navy Yard and said the request, made Thursday, could only be granted by the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Verheyden-Hilliard said D.C. police were notified of the sound system weeks ago.
Also of concern for organizers are security cameras to be deployed by D.C. police. Police announced recently that they planned to use video cameras for "crowd management and public safety" during today's event and other antiwar activities this weekend coinciding with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday.
Police have stressed that the camera system has no audio capability and is used to monitor wide areas of public space rather than individuals. The closed-circuit television cameras are mounted on downtown buildings and the department helicopter and focus on public areas around the Mall, the Capitol, the White House and other areas, police said. Fourteen permanent cameras plus the one on the helicopter will be in use today, police said, along with temporary ones at various points along the march route.
ANSWER spokesman Tony Murphy said: "Tens of thousands of people are coming from all over the country. They're not going to be deterred by the cold weather or the cameras."
Police also plan to use the cameras during antiabortion demonstrations on Wednesday, the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade to legalize abortion. One supporter of that march also criticized the surveillance. "It's a disgrace that, suddenly, American citizens who are simply gathering together . . . to speak out against abortion are being monitored and put under surveillance," said the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.
For today's rally, 11 buses were scheduled to leave Portland, Maine, with antiwar activists from across the state. "We started with only two buses," said Greg Field, 44, executive director of Peace Action Maine, an organizing group. "Those two turned into four, and those four turned into more." He said they would have brought more participants, but area charter bus companies ran out of buses and available drivers.
Others reported that they had been successful in attracting participants. For the October demonstration, the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, N.J., brought four busloads of marchers; this time, the Rev. Robert Moore, 52, executive director, said, "I'm quite sure we're going to fill a sixth busload." Moore, pastor of two United Church of Christ congregations in central New Jersey, said those on the buses come from a variety of faiths and backgrounds.
ANSWER organizers said college and high school students from more than 400 campuses are making plans to attend the demonstration, with many staying over for a youth march tomorrow from the Department of Justice to the White House. "It gets bigger every day," said ANSWER youth organizer and Howard University freshman Peta Lindsay, 18.
Lindsay and others were already talking about the next big events. ANSWER has called for a week of national antiwar resistance beginning Feb. 13. The events culminate Feb. 21, when organizers are asking high school and college students to conduct walkouts.
In addition, D.C. area activists are organizing a concert, rally and march to protest President Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 28, and ANSWER is calling for demonstrations the following day.