Thousands descend on Mall to protest Iraq War

Thousands of activists swarmed the National Mall Saturday afternoon to voice opposition to the Iraq War and demand the withdrawal of American troops.

The protest’s main organizer was United for Peace and Justice, which is a coalition of more than 1,400 member groups in the United States advocating change in Iraq War policy. Protesters were fueled by President George W. Bush’s new plan to deploy 21,500 additional soldiers to Iraq despite strong opposition from the public and the new Democratic majority in Congress.

Susan Udry, legislative coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, said the rally was more or less “spur of the moment” since the organization’s plans did not emerge until after the midterm elections, around Thanksgiving.

“The burden (of mobilization) rested on local activists,” she said.

Her organization also planned a “Lobbying Day” Monday as a follow-up to the protest. She said more than 1,000 people will meet with their representatives that day to discuss their concerns over the Iraq War.

Students, socialists, veterans and some active-duty service members were some of those in attendance at Saturday’s event. Celebrities such as Academy Award-winning actors Sean Penn, Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins made appearances.

Sarandon, who graduated from Catholic University in 1968, denounced those who excuse the war because it is not taking place on American soil.

“The war is being fought here in the hearts and minds and bodies of those that are returning,” she said.

Protesters wielded signs reading “Out of Iraq” and shouted for Bush’s impeachment.

“Twenty-one thousand five hundred more will risk their lives for his misguided war,” Robbins said during an impassioned speech. Demonstrators screamed in approval as Robbins condemned Bush and called for his removal from office.

Protesters such as Noel Martz, 40, found unique ways to express dissent as outwardly as the celebrities. Martz, who came to the protest from Atlanta, dressed in a bright green tutu and painted her face with sparkly, gold paint. She was one of seven women who call themselves “Dancing Flowers for Peace.”

Martz said the women held dance rehearsals on several Saturdays in preparation for bringing their message of “growing peace” to D.C. as an alternative to a violent demonstration.

The group AVAAZ.org displayed flags from 35 countries to represent international supporters of the anti-war cause that could not physically come to the protest. The group, whose name means “voice” or “song” in languages such as Hindi, Urdu and Farsi, tries to ensure the views and values of all people shape global decisions, according to the organization’s Web site.

“Most things that affect us are done on a global level but it’s hard for everyone to get here,” said AVAAZ.org co-founder Tom Perriello.

Some protesters participated simply by watching the event unfold from the sidelines. The Oakes family, of Bethesda, Md., sat on a picnic blanket eating lunch with their young sons watching the protest.

“We’re here to teach our children to solve problems with words instead of violence,” Jen Oakes said.

While the rally managed to draw a significant turnout, not everyone on the Mall was there to protest. Lyle Henderson and his wife were visiting D.C. from Houston and had not heard of the event until they saw it on the news Saturday morning.

Henderson said he appreciated those who were expressing their “freedom of speech” in the nation’s capital, but added that he was not interested in participating.

“I work for an oil company,” Henderson said, laughing. “So I declined when I got offered a copy of the socialist newspaper.”

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