Protests Held Across the Country to Oppose War in Iraq

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December 11, 2002

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 From a morning blockade of a federal building in Chicago to a lunchtime march to the White House to an evening discussion at a Y.W.C.A. in Detroit, a cross-section of activists, celebrities and everyday Americans held more than 150 events across the country today to oppose a war with Iraq.

Organized by a coalition of more than 70 groups called United for Peace, the events ranged in attendance from several dozen at Youngstown, Ohio, and Mineola, N.Y., to several hundred in Santa Fe, N.M., and Oakland, Calif.

Organizers and participants said the diverse turnout represented a growing wave of popular dissent, even as the country inches closer to military action.

The scattered displays of dissent did not compare to the large turnout at a national protest held in Washington in late October, which attracted more than 100,000 people from around the nation.

But organizers said size was not their intent this time. Instead, by fanning out to small towns, neighborhood squares and workday traffic areas, they said they hoped to emphasize a growing wave of skepticism and dissent to war.

"We want you to hear us, Mr. President," Damu Smith, director of Black Voices for Peace, one of the coordinating groups, said as he stood with a midday crowd of several hundred in Washington. "We hope you hear our voices today."

The hundreds of speeches given nationwide included tributes to Philip F. Berrigan, a former Roman Catholic priest and anti-Vietnam war organizer who died last week, and salutes to President Jimmy Carter, who was being presented the Nobel Peace Prize as some of the events took place.

The day of protests, Mr. Smith said, represent a new phase in coalition building around the anti-war movement, and several more events are scheduled in the weeks and months ahead.

In Los Angeles, a group of celebrities including the actors Martin Sheen, Hector Elizondo and Tony Shalhoub turned out to add high-profile support to the movement. More than 100 entertainers have signed a letter to President Bush appealing for a diplomatic rather than a military response in Iraq.

"It's time to stand up and declare ourselves as patriots concerned for our country," Mr. Elizondo said.

The celebrity group is part of a larger coalition called Win Without War that will officially begin on Wednesday. Backed by national religious and civic organizations, including the National Council of Churches, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Organization for Women and the Sierra Club, organizers said the group's purpose was to emphasize what they called a mainstreaming of the antiwar movement.

"We are patriotic Americans who share President Bush's belief that Saddam Hussein's Iraq cannot be allowed to acquire weapons of mass destruction," reads the coalition's political mission statement. "We part ways with the president, however, on the issue of pre-emptive military attack against Iraq."

One of the founding organizations, MoveOn.Org., started an online signature campaign a week ago titled, "Let the Inspections Work." Within days, it gathered more than 175,000 signatures and over $300,000 in donations to buy antiwar advertisements in national media outlets.

"There is significant energy building out there," said Eli Pariser, the internet-based group's international campaign director.

The events today varied widely in tone and turnout. In New York, the police arrested 99 clergy members from a variety of faiths on charges of blocking the doors to the United Nations mission.

In Santa Fe, a children's marimba band joined junior high students, middle-aged Green Party members, Veterans for Peace and hundreds of lunchtime passers-by in singing a version of the Christmas carol "Deck the Halls."

"Peace is jolly, war is folly," sang the crowd.

On an icy playground in the Boston neighborhood Jamaica Plain, about 50 members of a group called Latinos Together Against the War came together for a puppet show, rap performance and poetry reading for peace.

Unlike some protests that are dominated by college students, these events had a significant turnout of middle-aged professionals and older people.

Louise Franklin Ramirez, 97, attended the Washington rally in her wheelchair. Margo Smith, 72, of Berkeley, Calif., joined in chants in front of the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland saying, "Peace is the power of the people."

Bob Taylor, an economist for the World Bank, skipped lunch to join the march to the White House. He took his family to the Washington march in October carrying a sign that read, "Average American Family Against War With Iraq." On his way to work, Mr. Taylor said he saw a leaflet for today's rally and decided to squeeze it into his day.

"The perception out there that ordinary people are not paying attention to what's going on and are not concerned about the possibility of war is wrong," Mr. Taylor said. "Very few of my friends and colleagues support this war, even if they did not walk over to stand here today."

Copyright The New York Times Company 2002