War demonstrators flocked to the streets of the city this weekend to peacefully demonstrate for and against U.S. intervention in Iraq.
The demonstrations coincided with the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, meetings that traditionally draw anti-globalization protesters. But the majority of the marches, speeches and activism Saturday and Sunday addressed the war.
The “Rally for the Troops, Rally for America,” hosted by radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, was staged on the steps of the Capitol, drawing Bush supporters in a sea of American flags and patriotic speakers.
In Freedom Plaza at 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, anti-war demonstrators met, heard speakers, danced in fountains and beat drums.
Perhaps as many as 5,000 rallied against the war, marching along a police-lined parade route winding through the city north of the White House. The Washington Post reported police arrested three demonstrators along the parade route Saturday, two for assault on an officer and one for failure to obey officers’ orders. No arrests had been reported Sunday by press time.
“We have permitted a war of aggression,” said former attorney general Ramsey Clark, addressing the anti-war crowd. “Travel the world and see what people think of the United States.”
Demonstrators marched, carrying signs and puppets through the streets, chanting the familiar refrain of anti-war marches, “Whose streets? Our streets.”
The rhetoric of the anti-war movement has shifted from anti-war to anti-occupation as coalition forces near their goals in Iraq. Though many believe the military campaign in Iraq is nearing completion, protests saw large turnouts.
“Sure the turnout could be better,” said Jason Leigh, a senior at the University of Virginia, “but we are getting the message out.”
Leigh said he had demonstrated against the war in previous events, though he was not affiliated with a particular group.
The International ANSWER coalition, which sponsors many of the demonstrations, has been criticized for having Socialist roots. ANSWER leaders deny such connections.
“I know the people organizing the demonstrations are more extreme than I am, but you need someone to do the work of getting permits and running the show,” Leigh said of the ANSWER leadership.
Jamie LaFonte, 30, from Virginia, said she had come to the weekend’s protest as a pacifist.
“Even with the war nearly over, the cause for me is the same,” she said. “Peace is always the message.”
Bush supporters called the anti-war demonstrators unpatriotic.
In front of the Capitol, demonstrators cheered the demise of the Iraqi regime.
Anti-war protesters were also the subjects of ridicule and derision, evidenced by a sign that read, “We are proud of our President, we are proud of our troops, we are proud of our country. If you are not, go to France.”
Warren Brooks, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said U.S. troops should receive more support than he did as soldier in Vietnam.
“We didn’t get any support,” he said. “These guys deserve better than that.”
More than 200 people from the Vietnamese Community of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, many of whom came to America as refugees during the Vietnam War, demonstrated to express their unequivocal support for U.S. troops in Iraq.
“We feel very grateful for what we’ve been given by this great land,” said Pt Dau, editor of the Vietnamese newspaper Pho Nho.
For the most part, demonstrations were peaceful, and police reported only a few incidents of trouble.
Leaders said un-permitted demonstrations are planned for Monday.