News: Signs of Progress

Also crosses, concert tickets and a ride for Joe Lieberman

Washington, D.C. ­ When Cindy Sheehan and her supporters first erected the crosses in Texas, they were meant to symbolize every American soldier killed in Iraq.

But when they brought the crosses to the nation's capital, not all 1,900-plus could fit into the allotted lawn space. Some of the crosses stuck in the lawn under the Washington Monument still bore the tire marks from the man who drove his truck over them.

They made do, like the hundreds of thousands more who flocked here for three days of anti-war mobilization Sept. 24-26, bringing with them reasons, messages and tactics as widely flung as their hometowns.

Beatrice Saldivar left Fort Worth, Tex., to tour with Gold Star Families for Peace. Her 23-year-old nephew, Sgt. Daniel Torres, was killed in February during his second deployment to Iraq. She showed a crowd recent cell-phone photos of Torres' newborn baby girl.

"I don't know the baby, because I had to sacrifice being there to stop the war," Saldivar said. "He told me to stop the war. He was so much against the war because he had seen the atrocities."

But she said that when she went to Congress to talk to her Texas representatives, she ran into the former vice presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) instead. He told her that he was such a supporter of the war that he was planning to go to Iraq himself, according to Saldivar.

"Are you going to be riding in a cargo Humvee so you can get blown up just like Daniel? What makes your life more valuable?" Saldivar said she asked Lieberman, who turned and walked away.

She pointed to a woman kneeling by a nearby cross. Saldivar said she'd come from Scotland.

"Tony Blair killed her son, too," she said.

Throughout the weekend, activists used every angle to push their views. The Raging Grannies harmonized for peace. The women of Code Pink made a sea of peaceful opposition the color of Pepto-Bismol. Bare-breasted women called for "Breasts Not Bombs" and chanted, "War is Indecent."

Some called for the United States to withdraw from Iraq immediately. Others want it to happen as soon as possible without leaving a mess behind. Drafting Jenna Bush was a recurring theme. So were references to the devastation to Hurricane Katrina.

"Stop the War on the Poor in New Orleans and Iraq," one sign said. "Make Levees Not War" and "Bush is a Cat. 5 Disaster," said others.

But a lot of protesters brought other causes along, too: the School of the Americas Watch set up next to the Climate Crisis Coalition. One group of activists talked up their opposition to oil drilling in Alaska. One man's shirt said, "I Love Smoke-Free NY." "Nader Lives!" proclaimed an enormous sign.

A couple activists even protested the protest.

"We wanna march," some started chanting Sept. 24 when the rally preceding the march ran long.

"I lost my father in Vietnam and all we got was freedom to march in circles," one man shouted.

Nonviolence was the weekend's overriding theme, but many youth in black garb and bandanas looked ready and eager for a fight. Some protesters carried signs, others concocted elaborate costumes using clowns, flight suits and Abu Ghraib prisoner garb. A couple people showed up Sept. 24 with iPod buds in their ears just to add support and numbers.

The signs that bobbed past the White House when more than 100,000 anti-war activists marched past the White House Sept. 24 ranged from silly ("Down With Shitty Signs") to simplistic comparisons of Bush to Hitler to the succinctly eloquent ("Stop Breeding Puppets of U.S. Imperialism Abroad").

In that way they weren't so different from the 30-some counter-protesters who taunted anti-war activists along the march route.

There were the usual "Go to Canada" and "Hippies Smell" signs. One sign taunted women: "Rad-Fems=Neo-Marxist." Another listed three columns of countries that the United States has aided in war. Many criticized Sheehan.

Before the Sept. 24 march, 21-year-old Ohio University student Jordan Rogoff stood on a water fountain to encourage and rile the activists. She was waiting for them at the end of the march, too, this time perched on a roll of wooden fencing while entreating weary marchers by bullhorn to continue agitating after the weekend was over.

"What is it going to take to keep this moving?" she shouted. "We can't just march on Washington every couple of months. What are you going to do tomorrow?"

She tried to convince them to walk out of work and school Nov. 2 ( HYPERLINK "http://www.worldcantwait.org" www.worldcantwait.org).

On the morning of Sept. 26 religious leaders, who the night before held an interfaith tent revival, led a few hundred activists on a peaceful march from the Foundry United Methodist Church to the White House. There the "nonviolent civil disobedience action" they'd promised materialized. Placards bearing the names of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians hung on the White House gate and a sit-in led to the arrest of about 370.

A reporter from Eugene, Ore. said she'd been among the 41 who were arrested early that morning for blocking two entrances to the Pentagon. The woman, who asked not to be named, said that she didn't hold out much hope that Bush might come out to address the crowds at the White House. The president stayed out of town most of the weekend.

But when she blocked the Pentagon employees' entrance with a sign saying, "War is Terrorism," she said workers made direct eye contact with protesters and nodded recognition.

"They really listened," she said.

Its unpopularity among many in the crowd couldn't convince capitalism to stay away from the protests entirely. Hawkers sold buttons, their own propaganda, pretzels and water. Concert promoters handed out free tickets to a Los Lonely Boys concert. One man pushed small, collapsible seats that held up to 550 pounds ­ not that she's fat, he belatedly assured one woman.

"Get your overpriced, left-wing wares on a spatula," cried a young man selling jury-rigged signage and blue ribbon magnets.

And it seemed everybody, just everybody had a Web site (www.everybodyhadawebsite.com).

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