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It was another lap around the Capitol for the antiwar crowd, but the mood was very different this time. In contrast to the strident rhetoric and near giddy denunciations of President Bush that have marked previous demonstrations (particularly those organized by ANSWER), Saturdays protest was sobered by the presence of hundreds of military family members and alienated Iraq war vets, whose voices have given the antiwar movement a new center of gravity.
Cindy Sheehan of Bring Them Home Now was the star, of course, her name repeatedly invoked on stage. Reverend Jesse Jackson thanked her for being a witness, in the great tradition of Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Harriet Tubman.
"Your light challenges the darkness," Jackson told her. "Your light is being seen and your heat is being felt around the world. Thank you, Cindy Sheehan."
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California praised Sheehan for waking up America.
And Steve Earle, who sang at the concert that followed the march, acknowledged her role as pivotal. This is what weve all been waiting for, this moment, said Earle, who traveled to Crawford, Texas, last month to help out at the Camp Casey encampment when Sheehan had to leave to tend to her sick mom. The camp was named for the 24-year-old son she lost in Iraq. Cindy simply has the credentials that a lot of us who have opposed the war did not have, and I think what were seeing here is the beginning of a mainstream opposition to the war, he said before launching into the ballad Rich Mans War.
Everywhere Sheehan went, the protesters cheered her. This is amazingyoure part of history, the California peace mom told the tens of thousands massed before her at the Ellipse.
We need a peoples movement to end this war, said Sheehan, as she urged her followers to turn up the heat on Congress. Were going to ask them, how many more of other peoples children are you willing to sacrifice for the lies? Shame on you for giving [Bush] the authority to invade Iraq.
She then led the crowd in chants of Not one more!
The protest was diverse, from radicals bearing posters of Malcolm X to scores of students holding College, Not Combat! signs and veterans of previous anti-war demos sporting Impeach Bush! signs and placards that read Thank you Cindy! and Cindy for president. There were also lots of middle class folks and people whod never bothered to make a D.C. protest before, like Robert Munroe, who took a bus up from Florida because, he said: Im sick of it, Im fed up. He carried a sign that asked simply: Why?
When asked whether he was concerned that pulling out would allow terrorists to claim a historic victory over the U.S., as President Bush has warned, Munroe responded: I dont have an answer, but I do know that us being there is not the answer. Were making enemies faster than we can kill em. Were in quicksand right now, said the 52-year-old Vietnam vet, whose son and daughter served in Desert Storm.
You are far ahead of the Congress and the policy makers on this war, Congresswoman Woolsey told the masses who gathered after the march on the grounds of the Washington Monument. You are firmly in the political mainstream, while George Bush grows more marginalized by the day.
Thats in contrast to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken two months ago, when 58 percent of those asked said they supported keeping troops in Iraq "until civil order is restored, even if that means continued U.S. military casualties."
Organizers were exuberant about the turnout, which they said exceeded expectations and marked a reenergizing of the antiwar movement. The crowd might have been even bigger but for an electrical outage on the Amtrak line that wiped out train service all morning along the Eastern seaboard, stranding hundreds of protesters on their way here.
The march itself got off to a late start, as speakers like Ralph Nader and Ramsey Clark droned on about the litany of Bushs impeachable offenses at the opening rally organized by ANSWER.
Among the throngs was a contingent of about 50 members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, many dressed in camo jackets. Were not against the soldiers, were against the war! they chanted.
At the front of the group was 25-year-old Tomas Young, who took a bullet in the same battle in Sadr City where Sheehans son Casey was killed. Young is now paralyzed from the chest down.