Sunday, September 25, 2005

THE SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS has a piece about yesterday's march demanding an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators -- a diverse swarm of veteran peace activists and first-time protesters -- marched around the White House on Saturday and rallied within its earshot in hopes of sending a resounding message to President Bush and the nation: End the Iraq war and bring the troops home.

"I haven't known what to do with my rage and impotence about all the horrors,'' said Mary McCutcheon, 57, a registered nurse from San Francisco who flew to Washington on Friday night to participate in her first protest since the war began in 2003. "People are just starting to stand up and speak up.''

Organizers estimated the crowd at more than 300,000, but that could not be confirmed. Washington police do not make official crowd estimates, although Chief Charles Ramsey said a figure of at least 150,000 was ``as good a guess as any.''

In San Francisco, thousands of protesters packed Dolores Park for an anti-war rally, one of several California demonstrations. An estimated 15,000 people turned out in Los Angeles.

Obviously, this march exceeded the organizers' hopes and expectations by quite a large margin. But the event was significant in more ways than just its sheer size.

One: It was notably diverse, and not just because a variety of liberal and leftie causes were represented. The participants came from every demographic group imaginable: middle-aged professionals and radical young people; Democrats and Republicans; long-time antiwar activists and people who supported the war in the beginning but have come to believe it was a huge mistake; even people who still think the initial invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, but who think the occupation has betrayed the original purpose of the war. Here are a couple of examples from the San Jose Mercury-News:

"I haven't been to a protest in more than 30 years," said Mike Robinette, 51, a regional government worker from Dayton, Ohio. "(The anti-Iraq war movement) is definitely further along than we were in the early stages of Vietnam. I think the difference here is you have a much more diverse crowd opposing the war. Back then it was mostly the younger generation."

The varied legion helped draw some who have been less fervent in their opposition to the Iraq war.

"I'm not really a big marcher," said Jenny Heumann, 36, an employee of a nonprofit organization in Washington. "But it seems like there are more regular people here, not just people on the fringe like you might expect."

Two: The march competed successfully for the media's attention with a Category 3 hurricane, coming just weeks after the worst hurricane in U.S. history devastated large parts of the Gulf Coast and killed well over 1,000 people. And, thank God, although Hurricane Rita has caused a lot of property damage and displaced 3 million people, so far only one storm-related death has been reported.

Three: The reasons expressed for taking part in this march -- which for many people meant traveling hundreds and even thousands of miles -- go beyond the standard antiwar sentiments. Here are a few, from the hundreds of media outlets that covered the march:

From CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) World News:

Paul Rutherford, 60, of Vandalia, Mich., said he is a Republican who supported Bush in the last election and still does - except for the war in Iraq. "President Bush needs to admit he made a mistake in the war and bring the troops home, and let's move on," Rutherford said.

From the Washington Post (via the Seattle Times)

Marge Gugerty of Aurora, Ill., a mother of two military sons, said she turned against the war because it wasn't part of the war on terrorism. "They both joined up after 9/11 in a long line of family military service, to preserve and protect," she said of her sons. "That's not what the war in Iraq is."

Margaret Lawrence, 73, came from San Diego with her husband, a Korean War veteran. "We love our kids more than Bush does and we want them home," she said.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

"We've gotten Saddam," said Nancy Utesch of Kewaunee, Wis. "There's been an election. It's time to come home."

Utesch said she decided to attend after walking into a Green Bay business that had a memorial honoring a local soldier who died in Iraq. "They said it was the boy next door," Utesch recalled. "I left there feeling very different. That's why we're here -- for the boy next door."

And here is a passage from a Newsday article in which two high school students from Long Island whose boyfriends are in Iraq voice their opposition to the war -- while they try to cope with Americans who don't even know there's a war going on there.

Stefanie Baum and Abi Carson hardly blended in to the "tattooed freaks and hippies and radicals" Baum saw around her at yesterday's anti-war demonstration here. Wearing bright red shirts that read, "George W. Bush stole my boyfriend" and "My other half is in Iraq," the two Seaford High School students attracted plenty of attention - not all of it positive.

While many of the thousands of marchers stopped them to say "God bless you," or "Good luck," others reacted with cluelessness, disbelief or outright hostility.

Baum said she has dealt with this before. On the day her boyfriend, a Marine, left for Fallujah last March, a girl in her art class asked if he was going to Iraq on vacation and said she thought the war was over.

"I had to leave class, I couldn't take it," Baum said. "That's when I decided to educate myself more on it, and read books - not exactly about the war itself, but about what they're doing there."

The two students, who asked that their ages not be printed, said they haven't been to a protest before but couldn't sit by while their boyfriends faced danger overseas. They and Carson's mother, Donna, joined more than 800 Long Islanders participating in what organizers hoped would be the largest peace demonstration since the Iraq war began. Police said there were about 150,000 participants, the Washington Post reported.

For more than 800 other articles about Saturday's march, go here.

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