In the first organized protest against the Desert Storm victory parade, several dozen peace demonstrators marched in a counter-parade last night down Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the U.S. Capitol.
Before setting out, about 50 or 60 protesters gathered at Freedom Plaza, at 14th Street and Pennsylvania, and heard speeches that underscored their objections to the display of military hardware of the type that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis.
"Only in the Soviet Union do you see this type of ostentatious display of military hardware," the group was told by peace parade organizer Michael Evans, a Falls Church computer salesman.
As a few service personnel looked on, protesters carried signs with inscriptions such as "War is Good for Business: Invest your Son or Daughter and Fund Slaughter."
In an interview, Evans said the daylong Desert Storm celebration, which will cost at least $12 million, disregards the Iraqi lives lost to the weapons being paraded in front of the Capitol.
Lisa Fithian, coordinator of the Washington Peace Center, said at first many people were reluctant to oppose the parade because they were afraid of being perceived as not supporting American troops. But she said the arrival of warplanes and tanks in Washington has caused people to focus on what she called "the storming into the city of military hardware."
"The phones are ringing off the hook," she said, estimating that hundreds of people have called the Peace Center to register their complaints.
Several motorists beeped their horns and flashed V for victory as the peace demonstrators walked down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, beating on plastic buckets with wooden sticks and chanting, "Don't celebrate death!"
Marine Cpl. William Beath, 20, who spent four months in Saudi Arabia and is marching in today's parade, shook his head as he watched.
"They have a right to protest anything they want because we went over there and risked our lives, and others did the same before us," Beath said. "If they understood that, I think they'd give us a lttle more support."
The protesters were not allowed on the grounds of the Capitol because they did not have a permit, so the group turned south on Third Street NW and began marching up the Mall, angering crowds of people perusing the warplanes and tanks on display.
Police again forced the protesters to turn around, telling them that they did not have permission to demonstrate on the Mall. The group returned to Freedom Plaza amid boos and catcalls from those gathered on the Mall.
One protester, Alexandra van der Sleesen, 26, called the small turnout for last night's parade disappointing but realistic. "There's a lot of apathy here, and this war really brought it out," she said. "And that's horrifying, because then you no longer have democracy."
Among the protest demonstrations planned today:
10 a.m. -- Interfaith memorial service at Lafayette Square, across from the White House.
11 a.m. -- Rally and picnic at Lafayette Square followed by "counterdemonstrations along the parade route," according to the organizers, Desert Flower Network.
11 a.m. -- Washington area Quakers assemble at the Foggy Bottom Metro Station for a silent vigil near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
11 a.m. -- Sojourners, an ecumenical group active during the war protests, is sponsoring a "gathering at the foot of the cross" vigil in front of the National Museum of Natural History.
2 p.m. -- Silent vigil around the weaponry at the Mall, sponsored by the Desert Flower Network.
Others have objected to the inclusion of a Syrian flag in today's parade. Flags of all the nations that served with the United States in the coalition against Iraq are scheduled to be paraded down Constitution Avenue today.
Because Syria has been blamed for the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, as well as the 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, family members of those killed have lobbied to exclude the flag.
"I'm really shocked and horrified" that the flag will be paraded in a national celebration, said Rosemary Wolfe, an Alexandria resident whose stepdaughter, Miriam Lupy Wolfe, 20, was killed in the Pan Am bombing.
Harry Walters, chief parade organizer, said he had sympathy for those who lost family members in the Lockerbie crash, but that the foundation running the parade took its cue from "protocol at the State Department," which advised including the Syrian flag.