Washington, DC; Jan. 28, 2007 – As violence continued in Iraq Saturday, people from across the United States amassed for an energetic and defiant anti-war rally in the nationâ€™s capital. The crowd dwarfed the expectations of protest organizers and law enforcement, prompted last minute changes to the previously agreed march route and emboldened demonstrators to challenge police barriers.
At a rally on the National Mall, anti-war organizers, religious leaders, military members and veterans, soldiersâ€™ families, politicians and celebrities addressed the gathering throngs. Smaller demonstrations were held in cities throughout the country.
Minutes before the planned march was to begin here, several hundred people slowly charged toward the Capitol building from the intersection of Maryland Avenue and Third Street. Police on foot, in cruisers and on motorcycles immediately confronted them. Protesters linked arms and tried to move forward while police attempted to push the crowd back.
After about ten minutes, the police gave way and the marchers moved on toward Capitol Hill, where they were again met by dozens of officers. After several small scuffles, the protesters halted at the foot of the buildingâ€™s steps.
"Bring them home," shouted a women in pink at the base of the Capitol steps. Her friend, who identified herself only as Oriana, stood also clad in pink, silently holding a sign that read: "Bring My Husband Home Now!"
â€œThis whole war is a disaster and a lie and I donâ€™t want to hear that he died for this.â€
"I just want him home alive," Oriana told The NewStandard. "This whole war is a disaster and a lie and I donâ€™t want to hear that he died for this."
Meanwhile, the crowd of about 300 to 400 moved around the building, looking for a way in. "We want a tour," they yelled at Capitol police officers.
Isaac Lavoa, a University of Massachusettsâ€“Amherst student and member of that schoolâ€™s Radical Student Union, said of the demonstration: "I really think today has been and will be successful. Weâ€™re here [on the Capitol steps] at a standstill and thatâ€™s fine by our estimation. Just look behind, look around, there are so many people here in the middle of January and weâ€™re all saying, regardless of other issues, that not only do we not need to send 20,000 more soldiers to Iraq, we need to leave there now."
The student anti-war community at Lavoaâ€™s school infused the demonstration with four busloads of protestors.
Meanwhile, the march organized by the anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) began on Constitution Avenue. According to plans provided by UFPJ ahead of time, the march was to take participants on a route around three sides of the Capitol building and then double back on itself to end up on the Mall where it started.
But the groupâ€™s spokesperson, Hany Khalil, said the unexpected size of the crowd helped organizers to negotiate a new route with the police, allowing the marchers to continue around all four sides of the Capitol.
â€œHow many people have we killed? How many of our soldiers have been killed? And for what? Nothing I can see except to make Bush and his scumbag friends more money.â€
"We got what we originally wanted," Khalil told TNS, as he stood on the middle of Fourth Street asking people to donate to UFPJ. "Once it became clear that we had so many people involved [in the march], the police agreed to let it circle the Capitol, which is what we first applied for."
Along the march, protesters ignored UFPJ organizers and tore down police tape, spilling out of designated areas and taking entire streets.
"This is pretty stupid," said Keisha Jackson as she tossed a shred of police tape to the side. "Why the hell should we be walking back and forth like this? Is there a good reason? I donâ€™t think so."
Jacksonâ€™s sentiment was shared by many other demonstrators. As thousands poured across police barriers, tossing do-not-cross tape to the side, a cheer went up from the crowd.
Jackson said she traveled by plane to Washington from Oakland, California with two friends.
"This war has got to end," she said. "How many people have we killed? How many of our soldiers have been killed? And for what? Nothing I can see except to make Bush and his scumbag friends more money."
"One, two, three, four," bellowed 45-year-old Anthony Wright from the Hart Senate office building wall.
"We donâ€™t want your racist war," a pack of marchers yelled back as they turned the corner of Constitution Ave and First Street.
"This is truly a great thing to see," said Wright, who drove from Clearwater, Florida, to attend the demonstration. "Iâ€™ve never seen so many people trying to do something so right. It makes me happy to know that the people of this country are standing tall against this war. I think Congress will have to listen."
â€œWeâ€™ve done enormous damage to this country and the world while Bush and Dick have been in office, and itâ€™s far past time to stop them.â€
Dozens of other people had taken position along the steps and wall of the Hart building and other government structures that lined the march route. Many, if not most, held signs denouncing the occupation of Iraq and calling for the impeachment of both the president and vice president.
Jan Spence, a waitress in Chicago, Illinois, said, "Hey, the people have been speaking and spoke very loudly last November." Spence said she hasnâ€™t been involved in protests before but felt compelled to come after President Bushâ€™s recent announcement that he would increase US forces in Iraq. "The last election was about two things, in my mind: the war on Iraq and the ongoing war we have here against people who arenâ€™t rich and arenâ€™t connected. Iâ€™m looking for Bush and his whole gang to go on trial for what theyâ€™ve done to this country."
Veterans for Peace member and cofounder of the Committee to Impeach the President Jim Goodman concurred. The Committee was formed in 1973 to protest then-president Richard Nixonâ€™s actions; it was resurrected last year in Dallas, Texas.
"The whole lot of them should be on trial," said Goodman, a Terlingua, Texas resident, of the Bush administration as he stood behind a table of impeachment petition sheets. "Weâ€™ve done enormous damage to this country and the world while Bush and Dick have been in office, and itâ€™s far past time to stop them."
Goodman said he has been networking for months with fellow anti-war veterans and other organizations calling for impeachment hearings. The groups intend to deliver the signatures theyâ€™ve gathered to the House Judiciary Committee within the next few months.
After the march, people milled about and gathered in groups. At 6 p.m., a full seven hours after the rally began, tens of thousands were still on the Mall.
United for Peace and Justice plans to continue its anti-war activities Monday with a Capitol Hill lobbying blitz. The groupâ€™s leaders, who claim that over 250 people have managed to schedule meetings with lawmakers, hope for over a thousand participants.