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War protesters peaceful but determined
By Derrick DePledge
WASHINGTON - Anti-war protesters marched to the White House on Saturday in what many believed was their last chance to appeal to President Bush not to go to war with Iraq.
The peaceful demonstration, along with similar protests in San Francisco, Los Angeles and several foreign cities, came as Bush prepared to meet in the Azores Islands with the leaders of Great Britain and Spain on whether to pursue diplomacy at the United Nations or take military action to disarm Iraq.
The president, in his weekly radio address to the nation Saturday, said Iraq has had 12 years to give up its weapons of mass destruction but instead has responded with ``defiance, delay and deception.’’ Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has failed to account for biological and chemical weapons and has financed and sponsored terrorism, he said.
``There is little reason to hope that Saddam Hussein will disarm,’’ the president said. ``If force is required to disarm him, the American people can know that our armed forces have been given every tool and every resource to achieve victory.’’
With war appearing imminent, anti-war activists here and around the world have accelerated their calls for peace and have threatened further protests, civil disobedience and labor strikes if the United States and its allies attack Iraq.
Gomer Thomas, a computer systems engineer from Piscataway, N.J., said he doubts the protests are having much impact on Bush.
``Mr. Bush is getting set to launch a totally unjustified war,’’ said Thomas, who was among three busloads of people from New Jersey to attend the demonstration. ``I just think it’s a monumental mistake.’’
Keri Johnson, a massage therapist from Canandaigua, N.Y., drove overnight with three carloads of friends. She believes the demonstrations, which have been much larger than before the Persian Gulf War in 1991, have had an influence on public opinion.
``I think if we weren’t here and didn’t start protesting when we did, we’d be at war already,’’ Johnson said.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said the demonstrations will continue, and will grow, if Bush takes the country to war. The congressman said Hussein should be tried for war crimes in an international court, but argued that the Bush administration’s push for war is unjustified.
``We need a regime change in the United States,’’ Conyers said.
Many speakers at a rally held before the march described Bush, not Hussein, as the threat to peace and democracy, and some urged Congress to impeach the president.
International ANSWER, a coalition of predominantly left-wing political groups, sponsored the demonstration and gave a platform for speakers to discuss a variety of issues and causes, from solidarity with Cuba and the Palestinians to freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is facing the death penalty for killing a Philadelphia police officer.
Larry Holmes, an ANSWER organizer, said Bush and U.S. imperialism are the enemies of people here and in Baghdad. ``We have the same enemy and he’s occupying that house,’’ Holmes said of the White House.
The protesters, many carrying signs and banners, assembled near the Washington Monument. Some chanted ``Bring Home the Troops’’ and ``Viva le France,’’ in appreciation of France’s anti-war stand at the U.N. Security Council.
Adam Mitchell, a painter from Athens, Ohio, set up an easel and canvas on the grass and was painting the
monument surrounded by American flags and a deep blue background. He said he had no expectations that the protest would make a difference, but felt it was important, anyway.
``Your voice never ends,’’ Mitchell said.
Some protesters, frustrated that their voices do not seem to be having a wider influence, have decided that direct action and civil disobedience are the only options.
Activists have targeted federal offices, military installations and corporations involved with the military. On Monday, protesters are planning sit-ins at congressional offices on Capitol Hill and acts of non-violent civil disobedience near the Capitol. Others intend to stage demonstrations outside the United Nations.
If a war starts, activists in several cities have vowed to take direct action on the first day, which could include blocking traffic or other types of obstruction.
Gordon Clark, the national coordinator for the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, which is organizing civil disobedience, said many people feel they have exhausted other means of expressing themselves.
``We are talking about the slaughter of innocent civilians,’’ Clark said. ``For a lot of people, it’s simply too much.’’
Civil disobedience, such as that of Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., during the civil-rights movement, or the young man in China who faced down a tank in Tiananmen Square during democracy protests in 1989, can convince others to make sacrifices, Clark said.
``There is something there that touches the human heart.’’