NEW YORK — Denouncing a conflict entering its fifth year, thousands of protesters marched against the Iraq war on Sunday in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco.
Protesters calling for the end of funding for the war or the immediate return of U.S. troops converged on a park near the United Nations headquarters in new York.
Union members, representatives of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, war veterans and others joined the demonstration, one of several staged during the weekend across the country to mark the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The crowd of a few hundred protesters grew as the procession, which stretched for several blocks, moved on.
Actor Tim Robbins, among the speakers at the rally, organized by the New York chapter of United for Peace and Justice, told the crowd that getting Congress to cut off funds for the war “would be a good way” to get the troops home.
“The American people want this war to end,” Robbins said. “That’s the message they sent last November in the election. When are we going to start listening to them?”
Errors at Walter Reed cited
Robbins, a frequent war protest participant with his partner, actress Susan Sarandon, also referred to the recent revelations of substandard care and facilities at the military’s Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington.
“You want to support the troops? First get them home, then take care of them,” he said.
Police lined sidewalks, and some walked ahead of the protesters as they marched toward the offices of Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Demonstrators carried signs reading “Impeach Bush,” and “Not one more dollar, not one more death.”
No counter-demonstrators were visibly present.
San Francisco: Rally on Market Street
In San Francisco, thousands of people packed several downtown blocks in what appeared to be the largest of several nationwide rallies staged Sunday.
The bustling, boisterous Market Street was closed to car traffic from the Ferry Building to the Civic Center, and police are lining the route.
Protesters were peaceful, mostly waving anti-war signs and listening to speeches under bright sunshine. A lot of people appeared to be part of multigenerational families, and represented cities and towns around northern and central California.
A small group of protesters had plans to continue marching to the Pacific Heights home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the target of anti-war protesters who have said she's failing to represent her constituents' views on the Iraq war.
President Bush was at Camp David in Maryland for the weekend. Spokesman Blair Jones said of the protests: “Our Constitution guarantees the right to peacefully express one’s views. The men and women in our military are fighting to bring the people of Iraq the same rights and freedoms.”
Police offered no crowd estimate in New York, but it appeared to be well over 1,000 people and possibly up to 2,000.
Trish Gorman, who rode a bus with 55 other people from Bennington, Vt., to take part in the protest, said: “The people have to speak. The government is not listening to the people. Sitting quietly at home is not doing it.”
She said she supported a “safe and well-thought-out defunding and withdrawal” from Iraq.
Michelle Barish said she had sent a gas mask to her brother, a soldier soon to be deployed to Iraq, but was concerned that cutting funds was not the right way to bring the war to an end.
“If they cut off funding, does that mean I’m going to have to send a bulletproof vest and care packages?” she asked.
Washington: Throngs at the Pentagon
On Saturday, protesters marched by the thousands to the Pentagon in the footsteps of an epic demonstration four decades ago against another divisive war.
A counterprotest shadowed the anti-war crowd on a day of dueling signs and sentiments such as “Illegal Combat” and “Peace Through Strength,” and songs like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “War (What’s It Good For?).”
Thousands crossed the Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial to rally as close to the Pentagon as they could get. Smaller protests were organized across the country and held abroad, stretching to Tuesday’s four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.
“Too many people have died and it doesn’t solve anything,” said Ann O’Grady, who drove through snow with her husband, Tom, and two children, 13 and 10, from Athens, Ohio. “I feel bad carrying out my daily activities while people are suffering, Americans and Iraqis.”
Retired Marine Jeff Carroll, 47, an electrician in Milton, Del., held a sign saying: “Proud of our soldiers, ashamed of our president.” Carroll said he served in Lebanon when the Marine barracks was bombed in a deadly attack in 1983, and thinks the U.S. should be focusing on Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden instead of Iraq. “We’re fighting the wrong country.”
Police on horseback and foot separated the two groups of demonstrators, who shouted at each other from opposite sides of Constitution Avenue in view of the Lincoln Memorial before the anti-war group marched. Barriers also kept them apart.
Protesters walked in a blustery, cold wind across the Potomac River with motorcycles clearing their way and police boats and helicopters watching.
The anti-war group carried signs saying “U.S. Out of Iraq Now,” “Stop Iraq War, No Iran War, Impeach.” The other side carried signs saying “al-Qaida Appeasers on Parade” and “Fight Jihad Not GIs.”
‘I’m not sure I’m in support’
Protesters met at the starting point of the Oct. 21, 1967, march on the Pentagon, which began peacefully but turned ugly in clashes between authorities and more radical elements of the estimated crowd of 50,000 on the plaza in front of the Defense Department’s headquarters. More than 600 were arrested that day.
That protest has lived on in the popular imagination because of the crowd’s attempts to lift the Pentagon off the ground with their chants; they fell short of their fanciful goal.
Video: Anniversary of Iraq invasion Organizers of the Saturday protest did not anticipate numbers comparable to those of the Vietnam era. Authorities no longer give crowd estimates publicly.
Veterans, some from the Rolling Thunder motorcycle group, lined up at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and waved U.S., POW-MIA and military-unit flags. Not all were committed to the U.S. course in Iraq, however.
“I’m not sure I’m in support of the war,” said William “Skip” Publicover of Charleston, S.C., who was a swift boat gunner in Vietnam and lost two friends whose names are etched on the memorial’s wall. “I learned in Vietnam that it’s difficult if not impossible to win the hearts and minds of the people.”
‘We didn’t lose the war in Vietnam’
But Larry Stimeling, 57, a Vietnam veteran from Morton, Ill., said the loss of public support for the Iraq war mirrors what happened in Vietnam and leaves troops without the backing they need.
“We didn’t lose the war in Vietnam, we lost it right here on this same ground,” he said, pointing to the grass on the National Mall. “It’s the same thing now.”
Henry Sowell, 22, Raleigh N.C., who fought with the Marines in Iraq in 2005, asserted that anti-war protesters were “taking away what my buddies died for and what I fought for.”
Some active-duty service members joined the anti-war protest, following rules that allow them to demonstrate but limit what they can say.
Speaking into a microphone hooked to massive speakers, Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto, who is on active duty with the Navy, told the crowd that the people had voted against the war in the November elections and “we’re here to cash the check.”
Rallies also were planned in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Hartford, Conn., and Lincoln, Neb.
Overseas, more than 3,000 people protested peacefully in Istanbul, Turkey, and about 1,000 in Athens, Greece.
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