William Alli, of Bowie, walked up the steps of the U.S. Capitol yesterday with an anti-war message and pictures of his two sons, both Marines in the Persian Gulf, in his briefcase.
Louise Ransom, dressed completely in black and weary from a train ride from her home in Vermont, stood on the Capitol steps, saying she was not yet over the killing of her 23-year-old son in Vietnam and asking, "How could we go through this horror again?"
And the Rev. Carl F. Thitchener, a Unitarian minister from Williamsville, N.Y., stood outside the White House praying with hundreds of others for peace.
Almost 2,000 people, including babies in strollers and older people leaning on canes, joined anti-war demonstrations near the White House and on the grounds of the Capitol, as Congress concluded its historic debate and voted to authorize the president to use military force to drive Iraq from Kuwait.
"I'm outright angered," said Robert Ryan, an Ohio real estate agent and auctioneer who spent $1,000 to come to Washington to lobby for a go-slow, try-sanctions-longer approach to the gulf crisis. His 20-year-old son, Robert, a Marine missile operator, is in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwait border.
"From what I hear from my son and his friends over there, the morale is poor," Ryan said. "They don't believe they're fighting for American interests."
Police arrested seven protesters after they knelt on the sidewalk outside the White House, refusing to keep the protest moving, U.S. Park Police Capt. Hugh Irwin said. A woman also was charged with assaulting an officer, who was taken to Washington Hospital Center for X-rays of his hand.
At the White House and at the Capitol, police patrols were beefed up to handle the crowds. Dozens of extra officers stood watch in the rain on the White House lawn.
At least 45 police vans and cars were parked bumper to bumper down the center line of Pennsylvania Avenue, between the Treasury Department building and the Old Executive Office Building, preventing the 1,200 to 1,500 protesters on the White House sidewalk and across the street in Lafayette Square from blocking the avenue.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and today was reminiscent of the '60s anti-war protests, though there weren't as many people as at the end of Vietnam," Irwin said. "The demonstrators were pretty representative: They were black and white, young and old, rich and poor."
At the Capitol, police officers on horses and motorcycles, as well as on foot, ringed the building as the House and Senate deliberated. Park police arrested five demonstrators on the Senate steps, which officers were trying to keep clear.
Because protesters had disrupted the floor debate Friday, access to the visitors' gallery was limited to half its capacity at any one time, which left hundreds waiting in long lines.
Across the nation yesterday, protesters called on President Bush not to launch a military attack.
Demonstrations in the Westwood area of Los Angeles and near Florida's capital building in Tallahassee each drew more than 1,000 people, and hundreds marched in Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Portland, Ore.
Organizers of anti-war marches planned here for Jan. 19 and Jan. 26 spent the day crisscrossing the city with sound trucks to drum up interest and hanging bedsheet-size signs from bridges and near highways.
Many of those who marched in the cold, steady drizzle said they had personal reasons for demonstrating.
"I've cried more in the last five months than in all of my adult life," said Alli, a federal employee whose sons are in the same flotilla. "I worry that they will be killed if not paralyzed or terrorized."
Alli, who fought in the Korean War, said that "for too long I was a hawk in Vietnam. I regret that."
Alli is the Maryland state coordinator for the Military Families Support Network -- an anti-war group of 5,000 people. He spent much of the day lobbying members of Congress.
"They're telling us it's a tough decision," he said. "We're telling them that if they had a son or daughter over there, they wouldn't take a chance at them being destroyed in the prime of their life."
Ryan, the Ohio real estate agent, predicted that if there is a war, 85 percent of the casualties among the forces allied against Iraq will be American.
Former Navy secretary James H. Webb Jr. led 70 members of the military families group to the Capitol steps in the morning. The families wore red, white and blue armbands and cardboard signs around their necks indicating the 39 states they had traveled from.
"On this threshold weekend, as the debate is going on in Congress, I wanted to associate myself with those who have the most at risk," said Webb, a Reagan appointee who resigned his post in 1988. "If there were 100 members of Congress with kids on the front lines, I assure you there would be a different vote."
As the demonstrators marched, they passed other clusters of protesters who carried dozens of signs with messages that ranged from "Just how many lives are you willing to sacrifice for the Kuwaiti emir?" to "Bush, we're sorry we called you a wimp! We take it back."
Just before 3 p.m., word passed through a crowd near the Capitol that both the House and the Senate had rejected resolutions urging the president to give sanctions against Iraq more time to work. As if on cue, the protesters changed their chant from "Give peace a chance" to "Congress wants a war for you, vote them out in '92."
Kim Partida, 23, an Arnold, Md., resident who had spent the day protesting, was visibly disappointed. "I feel like I did my part; I spoke up for the people I know who are over there," she said. "But I'm very nervous now. I feel like this war could possibly change the whole world."
Ransom, one of 80 women who dressed in black at a silent vigil on the Capitol steps, said that since her son, Robert, died in Vietnam, "I've been trying to put a war behind me. If we go to war again, we will have miscalculated the horror of what the end of peace means."
Staff writer Lisa Leff contributed to this report.