- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Scores of protesters rallied last night outside the U.S. Capitol as President Bush was inside delivering his State of the Union address to demand that he focus on domestic issues like the economy and health care and not Iraq.
Carrying signs with the message "Bush is Taking the Shirts Off Our Backs to Pay for War," protesters said the president has neglected average Americans and their concerns such as joblessness, rising health care costs and lack of affordable housing.
The rally took place near the western side of the U.S. Capitol near the Capitol Reflecting Pool. It was organized by a variety of local activist groups who joined together to form the "Shirts Off Coalition," an umbrella organization that included anti-capitalist, anti-war, Green Party and pro-Palestinian groups.
Protesters began arriving at 6 p.m. and huddled around propane-fueled space heaters. Their numbers steadily increased to 150 as the president's 9 p.m. address neared.
"It's a sorry state of the union," said Adam Eidinger, an organizer and a member of the steering committee of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, which supplied coffee, tea and hot chocolate to the demonstrators.
"This country is headed in the wrong direction," Mr. Eidinger said. "Bush has neglected the poorest people … the economy and many other tough domestic issues. If he can speak to the country tonight, we're going to do the same thing by holding this rally and this march."
The protesters received permits from the National Park Service to gather as many as 5,000 demonstrators. U.S. Capitol Police, Park Police, Secret Service, the FBI and D.C. police were on hand to monitor the rally, although the gathering was expected to remain peaceful.
D.C. police kept closed-circuit television cameras trained on the demonstrators. A network of 14 cameras is linked to a central command post at police headquarters, feeding images of the National Mall, the Capitol, the White House and other public areas downtown.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has said the cameras were invaluable during recent anti-war demonstrations. Police used them to follow crowd movements Jan. 19 during a rally against military action in Iraq. Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the Mall.
Protest organizers claimed well over 100,000 people showed up for that rally. Last night's gathering was tiny in comparison, but it carried a similar message.
Protest organizer Alexis Rodich said the point of the demonstration was to ask the president several key questions:
"What is the state of the economy when joblessness has increased dramatically? What is the state of health care when the number of uninsured has risen by over 1 million people in a single year? What is the state of our priorities when the elderly have to choose between food or prescription drugs? What is the state of our democracy when the president declares war, ignoring vocal opposition?"
Jenny Carden, another organizer, said she hoped the rally would catch Mr. Bush's attention and change his mind about declaring military action against Iraq.
"We need to stop this war before it starts," Miss Carden said. "This war will affect America's legacy. This is an incredible country, and we have these beautiful principles like democracy. If we become an aggressive force, then democracy may not be a principle adopted by other countries."

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