100,000 Rally, March Against War in Iraq
By Monte Reel and Manny Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 27, 2002; Page A01
Tens of thousands of people marched in peaceful protest of
any military strike against Iraq yesterday afternoon, in
an antiwar demonstration that organizers and police
suggested was likely Washington's largest since the
Organizers with International ANSWER, a coalition of
antiwar groups that coordinated the demonstration, had
hoped for a turnout rivaling that of its pro-Palestine
rally in April that officials estimated at about 75,000.
Organizers said they easily eclipsed that figure
yesterday, assessing attendance at well more than 100,000.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey also said he figured
yesterday's rally turnout exceeded that in April, but he
didn't provide a specific number.
"We think this was just extremely, extremely successful,"
said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a D.C. organizer with
International ANSWER, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.
"It absolutely shows that when George Bush says America
speaks with one voice, and it's his voice, he's wrong."
After a rally that lasted more than three hours at
Constitution Gardens, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,
the march began at 21st Street and Constitution Avenue.
Using 17th, H, 15th and E streets NW, they circled the
White House and returned to their starting point.
Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds filled the streets for several
blocks. When marchers at the front of the procession
returned to Constitution Avenue on their way back, they
had to wait to allow demonstrators at the tail of the
march to pass.
Other demonstrations in cities including Rome, Berlin,
Copenhagen, Denmark, Tokyo and Mexico City were held to
coincide with the Washington march, and in San Francisco
at a sister march, thousands marched through downtown.
Protesters arrived by the busload, by car and by Metro
early yesterday morning, some carrying signs and later
joining in chants that echoed a common theme: A war
against Iraq would be unjustified, they said, and there is
no consensus for it.
"Nebraskans for Peace" and "Hoosiers for Non-Violence"
chanted alongside silver-coiffed retirees from Chicago and
a Muslim student association from Michigan. Parents could
be seen enjoying a sunny, picnic-perfect afternoon by
pushing a stroller with one hand and carrying a "No War
for Oil" sign with the other, and police on horseback
The tone of the rally was far different from D.C.'s last
major protest -- the September demonstrations against the
annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank. During those events, anti-globalization
protesters had intended to paralyze the city with
disruptive throngs, but their numbers were much smaller
than expected, and they were dominated by a massive police
presence. More than 600 people were arrested during the
IMF and World Bank protests; yesterday, police reported
Several groups, including the Anti-Capitalist Convergence
that organized one of September's protests, mounted an
independent march that fed into yesterday's rally and said
everyone had agreed upon a non-confrontational goal from
"I don't think police want problems, and I don't think we
want problems either," said Pat Elder, 47, a Bethesda
antiwar activist who participated in the unpermitted
The morning began under hazy skies on the wet grass at
Constitution Gardens, as thick mud sucked at the heels of
the arriving demonstrators and the nearby Washington
Monument appeared truncated by fog. But by noon the skies
cleared and most of the lawn was shoulder-to-shoulder with
people listening to Jesse Jackson, actress Susan Sarandon,
singer Patti Smith and former Attorney General Ramsey
Clark, among other speakers.
Several speakers referred to Vietnam era protests, and
organizers were eager to compare the current movement with
the one that peaked with a rally of between 250,000 and
500,000 people in Washington in 1969. The last large-scale
peace protest in Washington was in 1991, when about 75,000
demonstrated during the height of the Persian Gulf War.
Unlike those protests, yesterday's rally was different in
that it preceded war, and many interpreted that as an
indication of a potentially powerful movement.
"During the Vietnam War, no demonstration of comparable
size took place until 1967, three years after the Gulf of
Tonkin Resolution [that gave President Lyndon B. Johnson
congressional authority to expand the war in Vietnam],"
said Brian Becker, co-director of the International Action
Center, one of the groups that make up International
But if the passions of the Vietnam era led to protests
that often trembled on the edge between control and chaos,
yesterday's event suggested that this movement is burning
at a lower flame.
"Here I'm not being spit on, people aren't throwing
tomatoes at me and Joan Baez isn't singing," said protest
veteran Dot Magargal, 77, from Media, Pa. "People just
want to come out and say that not everyone wants to go to
war. This is a lot of people, a lot of voters, and it has
to count for something."
For those looking for symbols often associated with
left-wing demonstrations -- Grateful Dead T-shirts,
dreadlocks, anti-corporate slogans, Socialist newsletters
-- plenty could be found. But it wasn't necessary to comb
through the fringe to find people who didn't fit the mold.
Many said they were first-time protesters who had never
attended a rally. Some said they were against all war, no
matter the circumstances, and others said they were simply
against the possibility of an Iraq invasion.
"I've never in my life done anything like this before,"
said Marie Johnson, 31, of Columbia. "What I wanted to do
was say that even though Bush puts forth that everyone
supports going to war against Iraq, some of us don't. I
just thought it was important for me to do something to
show how I felt."
Peggy McGrath, 59, said she hoped that Bush would look out
of the windows of the White House to see that thousands
disagreed with him. She said she remained optimistic that
he might change his mind, especially if enough people
"I think there's actually been a shift already in Bush's
rhetoric in the last two weeks," said McGrath, who was on
one in a caravan of eight buses from Chicago. "The hope is
that maybe he'll see this, and maybe it can be stopped
before it's started."
Bush, however, wasn't at the White House. He and first
lady Laura Bush flew yesterday from their Texas ranch to
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where the president was attending
the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Among other
things, Bush was seeking to rally fellow leaders behind
his Iraq stance.
The president had some support at the rally from a group
of about 100 counter-protesters who gathered at 17th
Street and Constitution Avenue. Along with activists from
the national group Free Republic, a group of Iraqi exiles
chanted slogans against Saddam Hussein. In one of the few
points of tension during the day, police stepped into a
scuffle between peace activists and counterprotesters and
led away two of the former.
One who joined the counter-protesters, Imam Husham
Al-Husainy, explained that he came to Washington from the
Detroit area with about 40 Iraqis to present the view of
people who had suffered under Hussein.
"Most of these people across the street, they don't know
the reality in Iraq," Al-Husainy said.
Although the main protest message was focused on opposing
war in Iraq, a few other causes slipped into the mix. Many
of the same people who marched for Palestinian rights in
April joined yesterday's march, waving Palestinian flags.
But like others who had become activists for other causes,
they said opposing the war was what brought them out
"I don't come here to carry signs for fun," said Ribhi
Ramadan, 36, who brought his family of seven from
Paterson, N.J., to the protest. "I support not just
Palestine, but everywhere that's threatened by war."
Luigi Procopio, 45, a social worker from the district,
wore a pink triangle with "$ FOR AIDS NOT WAR" written on
it. He said even though he normally focuses his activism
on issues in the gay community, he and at least a dozen
friends came to protest the war in Iraq.
"It's time, man. . . .it feels imminent," he said.
"Congress has just rolled over."
Some protesters said they had been worried about
attendance before they arrived at the rally. Larina Brown,
22, a student from the University of Minnesota-Morris,
said she had feared that she and the 30 friends she
traveled with would be greeted by scant crowds.
"It's a relief, really," Brown said. "I really wanted this
to be a big statement, to show it's not just radical,
anti-American people who go to these things."
Most of those who arrived in the morning on buses climbed
back aboard shortly after the rally ended. By 5:45 p.m.,
the streets were almost deserted, and protesters had put
downtheir signs and were sitting on park benches snacking.
Mark Zheng, 33, of Amherst, Mass., stopped to take a photo
of two friends in front of a fountain in Lafayette Square.
Zheng, from China, had been at the Tiananmen Square
protests. He said he was impressed by the orderliness of
"I think maybe people have different thoughts on things,
but one thing is clear," he said. "Peace."
Staff writers David A. Fahrenthold, Ylan Q. Mui and Mary
Beth Sheridan and special correspondent Liz Garone in San
Francisco and wire services contributed to this report.