About 1,000 protesters marched in the rain through the streets of D.C. and stood outside Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s house Saturday to protest the handling of the occupation of Iraq.
The demonstration, billed as the “next stage of the anti-war movement,” was one of several “emergency protests” sponsored by the group Act Now to Stop War and Racism over the past year.
The event featured speakers representing the families of American soldiers and civilians who have lost their lives in Iraq, including Michael Berg, the father of Nicholas Berg, who was beheaded by Iraqi insurgents last month.
Michael Berg asked Americans to honor his son by opposing the ongoing occupation of Iraq. Coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003.
“I’m here to answer all the many, many people who’ve contacted me and my family and offered to do anything they could to help,” Berg said. “My answer is don’t let what happened to my son and my family happen ever again. Stand up for peace now.”
Other speakers included religious leaders, representatives from Arab-American communities and self-described working class Americans, who criticized the war in Iraq for diverting funding from domestic social and education programs. Several urged demonstrators to vote the Bush administration out of office this November.
“We’re going to not only end the occupation in Iraq, we’re going to end the occupation in Washington, D.C. as well – at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. – and kick George Bush and his cronies out,” said Graylan Hagler, minister for the Plymouth Congregational Church in D.C.
A number of protesters called for the immediate withdrawal of American troops, arguing that the heavy loss of American and Iraqi lives must not be allowed to continue. Mildred McHugh, who carried a large photo of her son, who is serving in Iraq, said the administration’s poor handling of the occupation was making the situation more dangerous.
“I don’t believe a good case was ever made for going into this war, and now our sons are dying,” McHugh said. “The occupation has been conducted horribly. President Bush’s bravado is playing into the hands of the insurgents and making things worse.”
The march began at noon in Lafayette Park, where a crowd gathered on the lawn across from the White House to hear activists speak on a variety of issues ranging from the prolonged detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the legalization of gay marriage.
Following the rally, the crowd walked through a two-mile stretch of D.C., ending at the Rumsfeld’s Kalorama residence. Police officers on bikes and motorcycles escorted the marchers through the neighborhoods of northwest Washington and increased in numbers as the protesters approached the secretary’s estate. Rumsfeld was in the middle of a six-day trip to Asia Saturday.
Outside of Rumsfeld residence on Kalorama Road, several people began shouting epithets aimed at the secretary, condemning his handling of the war and calling for his resignation. Brian Becker, co-director of the International Action Center, accused Rumsfeld and the Bush administration of war crimes.
“This administration has embraced genocide in the form of unjust, immoral foreign policy,” said Becker, speaking from a pickup truck parked outside the Rumsfeld home.
Mirroring a trend from past anti-war protests, Saturday’s event drew a diverse group ranging from college students to suburban families. The protest was somewhat larger than a rally held last spring in the wake of the Falluja uprising, though tiny compared to other International ANSWER demonstrations held during the buildup to the Iraq War.
Some compared the conflict in Iraq to the Vietnam War, warning that history could be repeating itself.
“They have a lot of parallels,” said J.J. Garcia, who traveled to the rally from Houston with the group Veterans Against the War in Iraq. “It was initiated by lies by men who did not even ever go to war … and now they’re sending other people’s children to be killed.”
As marchers made their way through the streets of D.C., sporadic chants of “No blood for oil” and “No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East” broke out throughout the crowd.
Protesters carried posters bearing slogans such as “Bush Lied, Thousands Died” and “Got WMD?” One man wore a black robe and hood with wires dangling from his wrists, mimicking a scene from the photos showing the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.
As the afternoon wore on, people began to stray from the rally, and by mid-afternoon the crowd had dwindled to just a few hundred people. While the demonstration was relatively small, protesters said they believed support for their cause was on the rise.
“I think the opposition is pretty strong, and it’s getting stronger,” District resident Glenn Morrison said. “There’s a lot of disgust about how it’s drawn out and all the Americans that are dying. I was around for Vietnam, and back then it took years and years for the opposition to come around, and here it’s taken just months.”