- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tens of thousands of anti-war protesters led by several Hollywood celebrities converged on Capitol Hill yesterday and railed against President Bush and his plan to send thousands of additional troops to Iraq.

The demonstrators descended on the Mall for one of the largest demonstrations since the Iraq war began in March 2003.

Organizers said they exceeded their goal of 100,000 attendees. Police do not give official crowd estimates, but some officers said privately that the crowd appeared smaller.

Dozens of politicians, civil rights leaders, military family members and celebrities spoke in opposition to the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq and the president’s recent decision to deploy 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

Among the speakers was Jane Fonda, the actress and Vietnam-era protester, who participated in her first anti-war demonstration in 34 years.

“Thank you so much for the courage to stand up against this mean-spirited, vengeful administration,” Miss Fonda said. “Your ongoing commitment to ending this war allows people in other parts of the world to remain hopeful that America has the stuff to become again a country that they can love and respect.”

In addition to Miss Fonda, Hollywood liberals at the forefront of the event included Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Rhea Perlman.

“I’m so sad that we still have to do this, that we did not learn the lessons from the Vietnam War,” said Miss Fonda, whose public protest of the Vietnam War included a trip to Hanoi in 1972, during which she was photographed seated on an anti-aircraft battery.

Miss Fonda, 69, said she had been silent on the subject of the Iraq war because she thought she would be a distraction to the anti-war cause.

“Silence is no longer an option,” she said to cheers.

Her presence at an earlier demonstration at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW prompted jeers from a few dozen counterdemonstrators, some of whom held signs that expressed support for the troops in Iraq and disparaged Miss Fonda personally. Some objected to her presence at the site of the Navy Memorial. The sides exchanged hostile and obscenity-laced taunts, but police kept the groups separate.

Among the participants were soldiers being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, who lost a leg to a roadside bomb in November 2005 in Ramadi, Iraq, said the anti-war protesters, especially those who are veterans or who are currently on active duty, “need to remember the sacrifice we have made and what our fallen comrades would say if they were alive.”

Cpl. Sparling, 25, is based at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Meanwhile at the White House, spokesman Gordon Johndroe gave Mr. Bush’s reaction to the protest: “The president … understands that Americans want to see a conclusion to the war in Iraq and the new strategy is designed to do just that.”

Yesterday’s protest preceded an upcoming vote in the Senate on a nonbinding resolution condemning the new Iraq strategy.

The main rally, sponsored by the umbrella group United for Peace and Justice, began at 11 a.m. with a rally on the Mall. Protesters chanted and banged drums as they peacefully marched halfway around the Capitol and back.

Police said they recorded no arrests during the demonstration.

“Everything went fine. We had a large turnout, but no problems,” said U.S. Park Police spokesman Lt. Scott Fear.

About 300 protesters attempted to rush the front steps of the Capitol, but they were rebuffed by police without injury or arrest.

U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider also said the event was incident-free.

“I think everything went pretty peacefully,” she said.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, was one of several legislators who spoke at the rally.

“George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing,” Mr. Conyers said. “He can’t fire you. He can’t fire us. But we can fire him.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s request for additional troops is a waste of taxpayers’ money for his own personal cause.

“We all know it’s not about winning or losing,” she said. “It’s about doing the right thing. Everybody knows this except the president …. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

Dennis Rosser, 50, a speechwriter from the District, called Mr. Bush a “despot who won’t follow the desires of the American people.”

“He’s doomed for failure,” Mr. Rosser said. “[White House spokesman] Tony Snow said the other day, ‘The president doesn’t always listen to the people.’ Now as president, would you have said that?”

Mike Sherkin, 29, software engineer from the District, said that yesterday was his birthday, but he decided to come out in support of the rally.

“This war has been going on too long. It needs to end,” Mr. Sherkin said. “Innocent people are dying.”

Ilonka Wloch, 36, an editor from Ithaca, N.Y., said it was “very profound” to see so many protesters.

“I wholeheartedly believe in change, and I believe that at heart we as humans all want the same things — safety, love and cooperation,” she said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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