Tens of thousands of protesters endured subfreezing temperatures yesterday to demonstrate on the National Mall against the United States’ impending war with Iraq.
In front of the U.S. Capitol, the massive crowd listened to a series of short speeches by representatives of various interest groups, including the AFL-CIO, Free Palestine Alliance, United for Peace TransAfrica, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.
Many chanted anti-war slogans and hoisted signs that read “No Blood for Oil” and “George Warmonger Bush” during the daylong demonstration organized by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). After the rally on the Mall, the demonstrators marched to the Navy Yard in Southeast.
Other anti-war demonstrations took place in San Franciso and Tampa, Fla., and 18 countries including Argentina, Britain, Egypt, Japan, France, Mexico, Spain and Syria.
Only two arrests here were reported, both of which were made by U.S. Capitol Police. A man was charged with disorderly conduct for inciting a crowd in the 200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW and a woman was charged with defacing government property for writing on the Library of Congress John Adams Building at 110 Second St. SE, said Officer Jessica Gissubel, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.
“If that’s the worst thing that’s going to happen all day, we’re in good shape,” D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said of the two arrests and another minor incident involving counterprotesters across the street from the Marine Corps barracks at Eighth and I streets in Southeast.
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer with the Partnership for Civil Justice and a co-organizer of the demonstration, said more than 200,000 people were attending the rally, adding that buses and trains of protesters from New York had not yet arrived.
The U.S. Park Police, which oversees activities on the Mall, does not provide estimates of crowd size. Police officials said that organizers had a permit for 30,000 demonstrators.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network and a Democratic presidential contender, and other speakers noted that the protest was being held on the national observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“He fought for world peace, he fought for the fair distribution of wealth, he fought for blood to have more importance than oil,” Mr. Sharpton said of King, whose Jan. 15 birthday will be observed tomorrow. “He wouldn’t be inside [the White House planning for war], he’d be on the outside saying, ‘Give peace a chance.’”
Several speakers and protesters directed their comments to government officials, even though Congress is out of session for the King holiday weekend and President Bush is at Camp David.
Ramsey Clark, U.S. attorney general during the Johnson administration, called for Mr. Bush’s impeachment, evoking cheers from the throng.
Mr. Clark noted the U.S. Constitution’s impeachment criteria “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors” then laid out his case against Mr. Bush in a stream of rhetorical questions.
“Has he assumed the power to wage aggressive war by himself? Is that an impeachable offense? Has he threatened to use nuclear weapons? Is that an impeachable offense?” he said, as the crowd yelled “yes” after each question. “Then let’s impeach him.”
Mr. Clark and other rally organizers said a Web site will be set up to enlist support for Mr. Bush’s impeachment.
Many demonstrators wore their feelings about the impending war plastered on their parka sleeves and painted on their faces, glued to backs of their wool and mink coats. One protester painted his entire body with the peace sign to make a point.
“War is never the right answer. The solution is education, health care, food and shelter. There are so many better ways to spend money that would be [otherwise] spent on a war,” said Blacksburg, Va., artist Jeffrey Buechler, 28, who was dubbed “Peace Man” by the crowds who gathered around to shield him from frigid wind gusts.
Protesters from President Bush’s state showed up to voice their disdain over what they see as the president’s determination to attack Iraq. Marcia Strickland, 28, drove three days from her hometown in El Paso, Texas, to protest the war on Iraq.
“As a Texan, I’m appalled. I feel strongly that this war is wrong. We’re going to end up killing a lot of innocent Iraqi civilians. I believe this war is motivated more by politics, power and profit than a legitimate claim to fight terrorism. I think attacking Iraq will lead to more terrorism against the United States.”
Genevieve Ritzman, 81, of Coatesville, Pa., came to demonstrate her opposition to violence.
“It never solves anything it just creates more violence.” Mrs. Ritzman said. “We are the terrorists of the world right now. My own government scares me more than the Iraqi government.
“I hope that this demonstration is so large that it will finally make an impression, because nothing else seems to do it. By our demonstration, it gives the general public courage to investigate the administration. They’re spending money on war and preparations for war and more war instead of helping people who need health care, education and housing.”
During the day, vendors hawked their wares selling everything from Krispy Kreme doughnuts to hardback black history books.
The nonviolent theme so closely associated with Martin Luther King was present at yesterday’s demonstration. Blacks and whites alike carried signs with the young preacher’s face emblazoned upon them. Susan Smith, 49, carried a sign with a quote from King: “Wars are poor chisels for caring out peaceful tomorrows.”
Ms. Smith, a teacher who arrived in a group of 400 people from New York state, said the United States should let the United Nation’s weapons inspectors do their job.
“The inspectors aren’t giving us any reason for war. A pre-emptive war is dangerous I work hard and pay taxes, and I don’t want one penny going towards war or this foreign policy,” Ms. Smith said.
Ann Martinson, 68, and her daughter came in from Hudson, Wis., to help raise public awareness.
“Why kill Saddam’s victims?” Mrs. Martinson asked. “To bomb and make war against a nation that is already savaged is bullying and imperialistic. We want to help people to ask questions. They’re kind of the blind following the administration.
Said her daughter, Paula Bhagyam, 44: “I recently became involved in the anti-war movement and I am trying to do all I can to make a difference and to get people more involved in this.”
This article is based in part on wire service reports