For the Veteran

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thousands protest in Washington

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 — Tens of thousands of protesters converged on the National Mall on Saturday to oppose President Bush’s plan for a troop increase in Iraq in what organizers hoped would be one of the largest shows of antiwar sentiment in the nation’s capital since the war began.

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Michael Christopher Brown for The New York Times
Carlos Arredondo with a memorial to his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo of the Marines.
The event drew demonstrators from across the country, and many said that in addition to taking their discontent to the streets they planned to press members of Congress to oppose the war.

“When we voted it was a directive to bring our troops home now,” said the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, referring to the November elections when Democrats won control of Congress.

Demonstrators listened to speeches from a roster of politicians and entertainment figures including the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio and a candidate for the presidency in 2008; and Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California. The actors Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins also addressed the crowd.

“We need to be talking not just about defunding the war but also about funding the vets,” Ms. Sarandon said, adding that more than 50,000 had sought treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs while benefits for them continue to be cut.

With Mr. Bush facing low approval ratings and Congress continuing to debate the terms of a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop increase, elderly people in wheelchairs, housewives pushing strollers, seasoned dissenters in tie-dye and veterans in uniform turned out to protest.

“I grew up during the Vietnam War, but I never protested it and never had my lottery number called to go fight,” said David Quinly, a 54-year-old carpenter from Prairie Village, Kan., who arrived here Friday night with about 50 others after a 23-hour bus ride.

“In my view, this one is a war of choice and a war for profit against a culture and people we don’t understand,” Mr. Quinly said. “I knew I had to speak up this time.”

Along the north side of the Mall, teenagers in T-shirts featuring sinister depictions of Mr. Bush chanted, “End the lunacy; end it now.” A man wearing prison stripes carried a sign with the likeness of Vice President Dick Cheney. A man on 30-inch stilts, dressed as Abraham Lincoln, carried a sign quoting him: “But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” A tall, clear plastic column stood overflowing with thousands of shoes symbolizing the civilians killed in the war.

“I’ve got a son who just got out of the military and another still in,” said Jackie Smith, 65, from Sunapee, N.H., whose sign read “Bush Bin Lyin.” “And I’m here because this is all I can do to try to help them.”

Tassi McKee, from Bastrop, La., who said she was a staff sergeant in the Air Force, was among a small contingent of about 20 active-duty service members who turned out. “I believe this has become a civil war, and we are being hurt and making matters worse by staying in the middle of it,” Sergeant McKee said.

She said that it was not illegal for active-duty members to attend protests but that it was strongly discouraged.

Veterans were more numerous among the crowd.

Dressed in the olive green, military-issued flight jacket that he said he wore during the invasion of Iraq while serving as a Marine sergeant, Jack Teller, 26, said he joined a caravan from Greenville, N.C., because he felt that it was his duty.

“I don’t like wearing the jacket because it reminds me that I participated in an immoral and illegal war,” said Mr. Teller, who had “Iraq Veterans Against the War” stenciled on the back of his jacket. “But it’s important to make a political statement.”

Fernando Braga, a 24-year-old Bronx native who is a member of the Army National Guard, said that he was skeptical of the war before it started. Mr. Braga said his views hardened into opposition while he served in Iraq from March 2004 through January 2005.

“My own commander told us when we arrived that if we thought we were there for any reason other than oil then we had another think coming,” he said. “I realized even commanding officers were against it but following orders.”

Michael McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, said more than 100 veterans from the Iraq war participated in the march, and several hundred veterans from previous wars attended as well.

Robert Watada, 67, of Honolulu, a retired executive with the State of Hawaii who said his son, First Lt. Ehren K. Watada, was to be court-martialed next month for refusing to deploy to Iraq, said: “So many thousands of our own have died and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and for what? And still we are having to push Congress to block the president.”

At least 3,065 American military personnel have been killed and at least 22,834 have been wounded since the start of the war in March 2003, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks Department of Defense numbers. The United Nations has estimated that at least 35,000 Iraqis have been killed each year since the war started.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/washington/28protest.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

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