Protesters began converging on the nation's capital Friday for what they hope will be the largest anti-war demonstration since the fall of Baghdad.
Organizers predicted tens of thousands of people would turn out Saturday in Washington for a march and speeches calling for the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Thousands of demonstrators also were expected to flock to San Francisco at the same time for the largest protests there since April, when more than 10,000 people filled the streets.
"The U.S. government has no right to try and recolonize Iraq," said Peta Lindsay, national youth and student coordinator for International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which organized the protests with another group, United for Peace and Justice.
To counter the anti-war demonstrations, the Washington chapter of Free Republic, an independent grassroots conservative group, also planned a rally for Saturday at the U.S. Capitol, where organizers expect about 1,000 people.
"We support our troops and the commander in chief and their mission," said Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the group.
Organizers of the anti-war protest in Washington said they expected most of the protesters to be high school and college students from 140 cities in the United States and Canada. They planned to gather at the Washington Monument before marching to the White House and Justice Department. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Martin Luther King III were among those expected to speak.
ANSWER coordinator Brian Becker said Muslim groups, veterans, and families who have loved ones in Iraq or in the military also plan to attend.
"We feel compelled to take part in this because we think this war is wrong," said Charley Richardson, one of the co-founders of the group Military Families Speak Out. "It never should have been fought in the first place."
Richardson's 25-year-old son, Joe, returned from Iraq over the summer. Richardson said his son supports "very strongly" his parents' right to speak out.
Vietnam veteran David Cline said he will attend the protest because he sees a lot of "eerie parallels to what we went through 30 years ago." Cline is the national president of the 3,500-member Veterans for Peace.
For the San Francisco protest, ANSWER and several other groups _ Bay Area United Against War, Not in Our Name, United for Peace and Justice, and the Vanguard Foundation _ arranged transportation so that protesters from Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and 27 California cities could attend.