Organizers of the March 16 peace vigil near the Lincoln Memorial estimated the crowd at "several thousand" people, higher than the estimate in a March 17 Metro article. U.S. Park Police said they do not release crowd estimates. Capitol Police said they made no estimate because the vigil was outside their jurisdiction. (Published 3/19/03)
Surrounded by about 400 peace activists who carried lighted candles and posters urging "Mr. President, Please Change Your Mind," guitarist Noel Paul Stookey of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary mused that folk songs are always apt for political demonstrations.
One line from the Bob Dylan song "Blowin' in the Wind," he said, was particularly appropriate for last night's vigil against possible war with Iraq:
"How many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned?"
Stookey and fellow trio members Peter Yarrow and Mary Travers serenaded fans old and new at the vigil below the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Organized by Win Without War, a District-based nonprofit group led by former Maine congressman Tom Andrews (D), the vigil was one of 6,000 that were scheduled in 136 countries at 7 p.m. in their respective time zones.
Members of the trio, which first performed at the memorial during the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, said last night's appearance on the Mall was their most critical.
"The stakes are much higher here," Yarrow said. "As urgent as the other issues were in the '60s, they weren't going to potentially precipitate an Armageddon."
Many in the crowd said the vigil gave them perspective not only on their own lives, but also on the lives of those in Iraq.
Cathy Egan, 42, who came with her husband and two daughters, ages 7 and 5, said, "My kids are so concerned about eating cookies and pretzels, but Iraqi families have to worry about bombs falling on them."
Jeanette Sawyer, 23, of the District said she spent the past two months making orange peace ribbons and handing them out on the Metro. Having grown up with her dad's Peter, Paul and Mary albums and the song "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," she said that she was excited to see the band play but that there was something sad about their simple messages still being needed.
"It's great that they're here," she said. "Unfortunately, it still means we have a lot of work to do."
Gretchen Vanek, a retired Army nurse who was based in South Vietnam in the early 1970s, said the only military action she supports is going after Osama bin Laden. She said she does not support attacking a country preemptively.
"I didn't take the band seriously" in the early 1970s, Vanek said. "Now, I'm smarter." In recent months, she formed a peace organization in her home town of Pocatello, Idaho. "We haven't learned the lessons of Vietnam."
The vigil drew religious leaders of various faiths, among them Jews, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Robert W. Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and a former six-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, looked at the overcast sky and shook his head.
"Here we are, with the dark storm clouds, with Bush in the Azores on the eve of war. You can't go to war with Spain and England as your only allies. There are so many churches opposed to this, it's unprecedented."
The vigil also was attended by many immigrants who have made the United States their home in recent years, including Olga Kupcova, 31, a World Bank health educator who moved from the Czech Republic six years ago.
She said war will only fuel anti-American sentiment in her homeland.
"I worry about the safety of American citizens," she said.
As the music began, Bethany Yarrow, 28, got on stage with her father for a duet. Before singing, she told the crowd, "I might be the youngest person onstage, but I think it's important for the younger generation to be out here, because soon this is going to be our country."