New York Times
September 25, 2005
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 - Vast numbers of protesters from around the country poured onto the lawns behind the White House on Saturday to demonstrate their opposition to the war in Iraq, pointedly directing their anger at President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
A sea of anti-administration signs and banners flashed back at a long succession of speakers, who sharply rebuked the administration for continuing a war that has cost the lives of nearly 2,000 Americans and many more Iraqis. Many of the speakers also charged Mr. Bush with squandering resources that could have been used to aid people affected by the two hurricanes that slammed into the Gulf Coast.
As protesters moved from the rally to a march around the White House, they packed city streets, and in some areas, came face to face with groups of pro-administration demonstrators, who held up signs expressing support for the war.
Organizers of the rally and march had a permit for 100,000 people, but the National Park Service no longer provides official estimates for large gatherings in Washington.
Rallies held on Saturday in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities drew considerably smaller crowds, but unlike the more varied themes of recent protests against administration policies, antiwar sentiment on Saturday was consistent throughout. In Washington, it was evident from the start, as an organizer screamed over the microphone, "Let Bush and Cheney and the White House hear our message: Bring the troops home now."
Mr. Bush was in Colorado and Texas monitoring hurricane developments, and Mr. Cheney was undergoing surgery at George Washington University hospital.
The activities here played out under heavy security as hundreds of law enforcement officers lined the streets, with an especially heavy presence near the White House. This was the first protest march in years allowed along Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, where the show of force included two additional rows of steel barricades in front of the permanent gates.
"It's significant that Bush is out of town," said William Dobbs, an organizer of the march. "It shows that he's turned his back on the peace movement, which represents a majority of the American public right now."
Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the administration, said: "The White House is certainly aware of the protest. The president believes that one of the most treasured rights of Americans is to peacefully express yourself, and there are differences of opinion about the way forward. He understands that."
Speakers at the rally included a newcomer to the modern antiwar movement, Cindy Sheehan, the California mother whose son was killed last year fighting in Iraq. Ms. Sheehan has become the face of the movement because of her efforts over the summer, encamping near Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex. Her appearance and brief remarks drew a thunderous response.
"I really haven't had a chance to digest all this," she said in an interview after her speech, referring to the attention she has received. "I hope I'm a catalyst for change, but I don't want to be the focus of change."
But the crowd also heard from old lions of the antiwar movement, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the actress Jessica Lange, Ralph Nader and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has endorsed impeaching Mr. Bush.
Mr. Jackson reminded the crowd that the war proceeded without proof that Iraq had unconventional weapons or a connection to Al Qaeda, saying, "We deserve another way and better leadership."
He urged the audience to stay involved in the movement, saying: "When you march, things happen. We'll change the Congress in 2006 and take back the White House in 2008."
The protests here and elsewhere were largely sponsored by two groups, the Answer Coalition, which embodies a wide range of progressive political objectives, and United for Peace and Justice, which has a more narrow, antiwar focus.
For months in planning, the theme was Iraq. But as Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, followed by Hurricane Rita, the rally quickly embraced domestic themes as well. One sign held high said, "Make levees, not war."
"To me, there is an ideological connection," said Sheri Leafgren, a professor of education at Kent State University in Ohio who held a sign that said, "From New Orleans to Iraq: Stop the war on the poor." "If you care about people losing lives and being devastated by grief, it's all human suffering."
In San Francisco, where thousands of protestors from California and other western states gathered in Doloros Park, the splintered message that characterized previous protests seemed to meld into a more focused voice of anger against Mr. Bush particularly for events in Iraq.
As the protestors marched toward downtown San Francisco, David Miles, 49, pumped up the volume on his iPod, attached to a 12-volt battery and large speakers on wheels. "War," the Vietnam-era protest song by Edwin Starr, suddenly filled the air.
The lyrics, "War, what is it good for?" blared from the speakers, and protesters joined in, shouting back: "Absolutely nothing."