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Rebuilding Iraq

Protesters, war backers rally across the nation

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 3/23/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq

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 TEXT

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NEW YORK -- Tens of thousands of protesters filled Broadway from midtown Manhattan to Greenwich Village yesterday in a boisterous demonstration that drew a cross section of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq. Parents pushing baby strollers chanted antiwar slogans alongside young people wearing headbands and grandmothers who held aloft paper doves.

Antiwar demonstrations continue across Massachusetts. B1.

In San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, and other cities across the country, tens of thousands more marched to protest the US-led military campaign. In Chicago, antiwar protesters traded jeers with people rallying to support the troops. In Atlanta, a few hundred people marched on the offices of CNN, echoing protesters in other cities angered by what they say is the media's uncritical packaging of the war.

Marchers said it made no difference to them that so far there had been no mass casualties reported.

"People might be watching TV and saying, `Hey, it's not so bad.' But they're not seeing a month down the line. We'll pay for this for decades," said Donna Langman, who marched in New York holding a placard that read: "Short war? Short-sighted."

"They think they are being so specific with their targeting, but it's still killing people and it's still taking money away from things like health care," said Laurie Bleich of Brooklyn. She held a sign saying "Guided Missiles -- Misguided Men." Another protester complained of "smart bombs, but dumb policy."

Organizers from United for Peace and Justice estimated that 200,000 to 250,000 people turned out for yesterday's march in Manhattan, which began at noon between Herald Square and Times Square. The 30 blocks to Washington Square Park, the dispersal point, were filled for three hours.

Police said the turnout was 70,000 to 100,000. About 2,000 officers, some in riot helmets and equipped with tear gas, lined the route. Officers chased a group of 50 protesters who splintered off north of 14th Street, and there were a few tense moments late in the afternoon at Washington Square Park, as officers tried to disperse the crowd after the march permit expired at 4 p.m. At least one police officer was sprayed with Mace. About 10 people were arrested.

Organizers had a permit for the march, in contrast to the demonstration outside the United Nations last month that drew an estimated 100,000. There were no speeches or pauses, although US Representative Charles B. Rangel spoke briefly to the media at the end of the march and actor Roy Scheider signed autographs. "We support the trooops, but we do not support the president," said Rangel, a New York Democrat.

Metal barricades lined the streets, and part of Broadway was blocked off; police with submachine guns, part of the security deployment that is costing the cash-strapped city an estimated $5 million per week, joined officers in riot helmets, on mountain bikes, and in plainclothes who had been deployed to monitor the protest.

Organizers said the march was intended to be a peaceful but powerful demonstration of antiwar sentiment.

"Every day that goes by, I think more people are willing to come out. People feel so outraged and powerless, they do what they can to get the government to listen," said Andi Novick.

John Tenofsky, who lives in Boston's North End, acknowledged that the "surgical and antiseptic" nature of the military campaign thus far might be keeping some people home. But Michael Peinovich of Brooklyn said most of yesterday's marchers were acting on moral principle; they did not want to see anyone killed and hoped to change US policies.

One man in a shirt covered with American flags joined the march to show support for US troops overseas. Another, standing a storefront door, implored the protesters to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But some participants saw little connection between the destruction of the World Trade Center and the military campaign in Iraq, predicting instead that more terrorism would result. One protester held a sign that read, "It's 9-11 in Baghdad." The September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows issued a statement condemning "the illegal, immoral, and unjustified US-led military action in Iraq."

In Chicago, troop supporters and antiwar activists demonstrated outside a federal building. As the protesters shouted, "Killers, killers, killers," a military-backer yelled back, "Idiots, idiots, idiots."

In Washington, more than 100 protesters gathered near the White House, chanting "No blood for oil; US off Iraqi soil." Marchers gathered in Farragut Square, two blocks from the White House, grabbing preprinted signs from piles leaning up against park benches. Others hoisted handmade placards with messages like, "Bush is a Terrorist," and "After Each War There is Less Democracy to Save."

"The notion of trying to build an American empire by attacking another country is completely inappropriate," said Peter Enrich, a law professor at Northeastern University who lives in Lexington.

In San Francisco, tens of thousands of people gathered near City Hall and marched through the streets. But in its early stages, the protests were considerably less chaotic than the ones held the previous two days, when some 2,000 people were arrested on charges ranging from blocking traffic to assaulting a police officer.

Shawn Rasson, an 18-year-old college student from Danville, Calif., who had attended Thursday's protest but left because he didn't want to be arrested, said he preferred the more peaceful approach.

"If we're not using peaceful methods," Rasson said, "there will be no peaceful resolution."

Bill Hackwell, a spokesman for the protest group International A. N. S. W. E. R., or Act Now to Stop War & End Racism, said the "civil disobedience" that effectively paralyzed downtown San Francisco on Thursday and Friday, halting motorists for hours, was as necessary as protest marches. "People need to be inconvenienced so they have to think about the war," he said.

Tony Splendoril, 23, was a lone voice supporting the campaign in Iraq, running alongside the marchers in San Francisco with an American flag and a bright orange placard that said, "I Support Our President." Splendoril said rocks were thrown at him and some people tried to burn his flag.

"I can't believe they hate the American flag. It stands for freedom and that's what this is all about," he said, pointing to the demonstrators.





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