Sunday, March 21, 2010

D.C. antiwar march draws thousands on seventh-anniversary of Iraq invasion


D.C. antiwar march draws thousands on seventh-anniversary of Iraq invasion

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010; A03

Thousands of demonstrators protested the seventh anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on Saturday in a march through downtown Washington. Many expressed concern that health care and the dismal economy have begun to overshadow the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other protesters said they wanted to contrast the financial cost of the wars with money needed for health care, job growth, and cash-strapped local governments and school systems.

"A huge part of the antiwar movement has been focused on the Bush administration and its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, which organized the march. "Bush is gone. Millions of people thought his exit would mean an end to these wars. Instead, after one year of real-life experience, they're far from ending."

The march started at Lafayette Square. Eight people were arrested about 4 p.m. after they lay down on the sidewalk in front of the White House, where it ended, said Sgt. David Schlosser of the U.S. Park Police. He said they will be charged with failing to obey a lawful order. Federal regulations require that protesters continue moving in front of the White House, he said.

Becker said those arrested included antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan and members of an Iraq war veterans group. He said organizers estimated the crowd at 10,000. A U.S. Park Police officer on the route estimated about 2,500.

Stretching about four blocks, the marchers left cardboard "coffins," which were spray-painted black and draped with Iraqi and Palestinian flags, on sidewalks in front of Halliburton's offices and The Washington Post. Group leaders said they were protesting the military contractor's "profiting" off the wars and The Post editorial board's positions on the wars.

Demonstrators left poster-size "foreclosure notices" at the front door of the Mortgage Bankers Association's building, saying its members' "predatory" lending practices had led to a "landslide of foreclosures." The group also stopped at the Veterans Affairs Department to highlight what leaders called "woefully inadequate treatment" of returning veterans.

Carrying signs saying "Healthcare not warfare" and "Drop tuition, not bombs," the group shouted "Money for jobs and education, not more war and occupation!" and "Troops out now!" as construction workers and tourists looked on. At Halliburton, protesters ripped apart a dummy of former vice president Richard B. Cheney and trampled the pieces.

There were no counter-protesters. Police closed part of the sidewalk in front of the White House about 12:15 p.m. after prohibiting members of Iraq Veterans Against the War from smearing a "mud stencil" of the group's name on the sidewalk.

Claire Papell, 21, a senior at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said she was disappointed in the turnout.

"My tuition is going up and people are suffering, and all this money is going toward war," Papell said as protesters gathered in Lafayette Square shortly before noon. "I feel like it's just not being discussed."

Larry Syverson, 61, a geologist from Richmond, said three of his sons have served a total of five tours in Iraq. His oldest, Branden Syverson, 38, is on a one-year tour in Afghanistan. Syverson held a sign that included a photo of his son Branden in Army fatigues and this message: "Bring my son home now." He worries that the troops have been forgotten.

"All we hear about right now is health care, and a big issue for the public is money and jobs," Syverson said. "All these discussions are going on about these issues. People need to be reminded that there are two wars we're fighting and our loved ones are over there."

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