- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Organizers of the largest antiwar demonstration in the nation’s capital since April are hoping President Bush’s slipping poll numbers reflect growing dissatisfaction with U.S. policy on Iraq.

When protesters converge in the District on Saturday, they will be met by officers from law-enforcement agencies who expect the number of participants in a peace rally and march to exceed 40,000.

“Bush was hoping that the antiwar movement, no matter how strong it became before the war, would become merely a blip on the political radar screen,” Brian Becker, a spokesman for the International A.N.S.W.E.R. steering committee, said yesterday.

The group said people would come from 38 states and Canada to participate in the protest, which was organized by International A.N.S.W.E.R. and United for Peace and Justice.

“We honor and support our troops, but we are deeply opposed to the mission on which President Bush has sent them,” said Stephen Cleghorn of the District, a member of Military Families Speak Out.

Mr. Cleghorn said his stepson is serving with the Army in Baghdad.

“We’ve got word that there may be more than 40,000. We expect it’s going to be a big day,” said Sgt. Scott Fear, a spokesman for the U.S. Park Police.

Park Police officials have canceled days off for their officers. In addition to foot patrols, additional horse and motorcycle units also will be assigned for the events.

Though the largest event is expected to occur Saturday afternoon on the grounds of the Washington Monument, other small parks located throughout downtown Washington are expected to be used as staging areas for groups of demonstrators.

“If there is any civil disobedience, then obviously the United States Park Police will be prepared to make mass arrests,” said Sgt. Fear.

In the past, those have occurred when demonstrators have attempted to access Lafayette Park, which for generations served as a preferred location for groups wishing to protest government policies in sight of the White House.

According to Sgt. Fear, International A.N.S.W.E.R. organizers have been working with authorities and do not expect demonstrators gathered under their banner to engage in acts of civil disobedience. But Sgt. Fear said yesterday that small groups committed to independent actions may attempt such protests.

Metro Transit Police will be increasing patrols near five stations closest to the Mall. The Metropolitan Police Department also will be involved, using its network of surveillance cameras in the area to monitor the crowd.

Organizers are stressing their intent to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech, expression and assembly.

“A key component of this demonstration is a march to the White House and a march to the Justice Department,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice.

She added that the National Lawyers Guild will have observers at many locations to monitor police response to the demonstrator’s movements.

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