'Bring our troops home' demand US protesters
Chanting "bring our troops home", anti-war protesters rallied in front of the Capitol building in Washington DC on January 27 to pressure President George Bush's administration to end the war on Iraq, now only two months short of entering its fourth year.
Estimates of the size of the protest vary — CNN put it at "tens of thousands", while event organisers from United for Peace and Justice, an anti-war coalition representing 1400 national and local groups, said nearly half a million showed. They said the crowd included people who came on 300 buses from 40 states.
The rally in Washington was held as pollsters for Newsweek magazine released the results of a nationwide survey showing that Bush's approval rating hit an all-time low of 30% after his January 10 announcement that he was sending an extra 21,500 troops to Iraq.
The Iraq war is Bush's "albatross", the pollsters said. Their poll, conducted on January 24-25, found that the war has made Bush so unpopular that 58% of US voters surveyed said they "personally wish" Bush's presidency was over now.
The line-up of speakers who addressed the DC anti-war rally ranged from movie actors like Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn and Tim Robbins to political figures like the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
Reuters reported: "For more than two hours, speakers atop a stage that also held a flag-draped coffin criticized Bush and the US presence in Iraq before protesters marched around the Capitol.
"In the crowd, a group of families of soldiers killed in Iraq held pictures of their loved ones, including one photo of a soldier in full dress uniform lying in a coffin…"
The wire service added that the protest was one of several US demonstrations, including thousands rallying in San Francisco.
Iraq war veteran Garett Reppenhagen told the DC rally: "When I served in the war, I thought I was serving honourably. Instead, I was sent to war … for causes that have proved fraudulent. We need to put pressure on our elected government and force them to … bring the troops home."
Associated Press reported that a "small contingent of active-duty service members attended the rally, wearing civilian clothes because military rules forbid them from protesting in uniform".
The contingent was organised by Appeal for Redress, a group of soldiers who launched a petition for troops to sign that calls for "the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq". AP reported that "US Navy Petty Officer Jonathan Hutto and Liam Madden, a US Marine sergeant who received his discharge on January 20, founded Appeal for Redress … Hutto said 60% of the members have been in Iraq operations …"
Hutto told AP that more than 200 officers had signed the appeal. (By the beginning of February, in total more than 1250 troops had signed on.) Madden, co-initiator of the appeal, told AP that many of his friends who had been to Iraq wondered why they were there. "The occupation hasn't benefited the Iraqi people at all. It doesn't benefit the American people and certainly doesn't benefit American service members."
The January 28 Washington Post reported that the protesters "came from across the country and across the activist spectrum, with a wide array of grievances. Many seemed to be under 30, but there were others who said they had been at the famed anti-war protests of the 1960s and '70s …"
Among the protesters was Jane Fonda, the 69-year-old actor famous for her opposition to the Vietnam War, during which she raised the ire of right-wingers by travelling to Hanoi in 1972.
The Post reported that Fonda told the DC crowd she hadn't spoken at an anti-war demonstration for 34 years. "I've been afraid that because of the lies that have been and continue to be spread about me and that war, that they would be used to hurt this new antiwar movement", she said. "But silence is no longer an option."
Also at the demonstration were those moved to protest by the plight of their relatives in the US armed forces.
The Post described the address by 21-year-old Oriana Futrell from Spokane, Washington State, as "the most moving", quoting her as saying: "My husband deployed last June to Iraq. He is an Army infantry officer currently patrolling the streets of Baghdad. And I just have to say I'm sick of attending the funerals of my friends. I have seen the weeping majors. I have seen the weeping colonels. I am sick of the death.
"I don't know what else to say, other than: 'Bring them home'. It is time. We need to bring them home where they can be safe."