WASHINGTON - In an energetic environment punctuated by cheers and the beat of homemade drums, several hundred people from Maine - fathers and daughters, college students, political leaders and first-time peace demonstrators - marched in Washington on Saturday, peacefully expressing their dissent to the war in Iraq.
The 240 Mainers traveled Friday night in five buses to Washington and arrived early Saturday morning to join an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 people from around the country. The group, which left Washington late Saturday for the return trip, marched alongside the Ellipse south of the White House and later down Pennsylvania Avenue chanting, "Bush's war has got to go."
The group ranged from college students to veteran activists to first-time war protesters. Their reasons were varied while the cause was common.
Dominick Rizzo, 47, of Bucksport wore a cap with a brown stuffed moose on top. Everything we were told about the war turned out to be inaccurate, he said.
"We have a lot more business to take care of in our own country," Rizzo said.
Ian Brauner, 30, grew up in New Orleans and is now living in North Yarmouth with his wife, who is seven months pregnant. He traveled to the protest march with his mother-in-law.
Brauner was months shy of his Ph.D. in molecular biology at Louisiana State University Health Science Center when Hurricane Katrina struck. He stayed in New Orleans through the hurricane because he had four dogs.
The same lack of planning that led to the debacle in Iraq led to the same kind of lawlessness that you had in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he said. In the days after the hurricane, Brauner said he saw people driving cars into drugstores.
"I'm really haunted by what I've heard about New Orleans since I left," he said. "I've gotten to see first hand the level of incompetence the Bush administration is capable of."
Chris Wright, 55, traveled by bus from Portland with his daughter Lyla, 20. He saw it as an educational opportunity for the two. Wright said he was so unhappy with the Bush administration that he needed to be "another body on the scene."
"The American sentiment after 9-11, the heartbreak, the fear and the anger, all of that was used to get us into Iraq and I think that's incredibly cynical for them to have done that," Wright said.
Three Maine state representatives, who were in town to attend the Women's Action for New Directions conference, said they paid their own way to come down early to attend the peace march.
Lillian O'Brien, who represents parts of Lewiston, wore a pink top to lend her support for Code Pink, a women's organization for peace that got its name from the color-coded terror alert system. O'Brien attended the rally alongside Marilyn Canavan, a representative from Waterville, and Elaine Makas, a representative of Lewiston.
"I can't think of a better way to support our troops than to support taking them out of harm's way from a war that never should have happened," said Canavan. "We need our National Guard at home."
The state legislators said they planned to meet with members of Congress from Maine before returning home.
Virginia Andrew, 70, of Buxton said that war is no way to solve differences and that she was attending the march for her male grandchildren ages 16, 8 and 3 because she believes there will be a draft coming. Andrew, who protested the Vietnam War, said that this was an "immoral war" and that she hoped for a revolution.
"I want to scare the living daylights out of these guys," Andrew said.
Larry Sementini, 60, who came down on the bus, said he had never been an activist before. It's only this administration that "lit my fire," he said. He said he never believed that Iraqis were involved in the terrorist actions of Sept. 11.
Sementini, from Spruce Head, said that people his age were starting to see that "the emperor is not wearing any clothes. There's another agenda going on here."
"This is honestly a real and present danger to everyone here," said Patrick Brown, a Bowdoin College sophomore from New Orleans who said his family's house was badly damaged in Katrina and his family lost most of their possessions. A year ago the government was asked for more money for the levees, "and all that money has been funneled into the war on terror," he said.
"It's a gross mismanagement and a gross lack of priorities," said Brown.
"If we can collectively demonstrate our opposition to what's going on, then maybe we can work toward some kind of a positive solution," said Bowdoin College freshman Miranda Yaver.
The gray skies and lower temperatures did not dampen the spirits of the thousands of protesters, some of whom painted blue peace signs on their faces, draped themselves in rainbow peace flags and snickered comments about Vice President Dick Cheney's ailing heart.
They waved signs saying, "Liberate our Gulf not Theirs," "Peace is Pro-life, Moral and Patriotic" and "Make Levees not War." Others dressed in black-and-white striped jailbird outfits carrying signs with the faces of President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a jailbird cap.
Bush was out of town in Colorado and Texas, focused on hurricane recovery attempts, according to The Associated Press.
The administration has been good at sending other people's children off to fight an unnecessary war with little protections, said Miranda Yaver, a freshman at Bowdoin College who is originally from San Francisco.
"I think it's really offensive that Bush has gone on television and talked about how the sacrifice has been worth it," said Yaver. "I don't think he would have said that the sacrifice was worth it if his daughters were part of the sacrifice."
Copyright 2005 Bangor Daily News