ASHEVILLE - A crowd estimated by police at 500 to 700 and by organizers at 1,000 or more protested peacefully against war Saturday on Pack Square, flying white foam doves and carrying placards calling for a halt to a pending strike against Iraq.
At the same time, the war protesters called for support for soldiers deployed overseas, adding the support should include "bringing them home."
While participants in the Support Our Soldiers rally just down the hill from Pack Square sang patriotic songs and prayed for the president and the military, the protesters on the square called for disarmament and a peaceful solution to the standoff with Saddam Hussein.
Many carried American flags and wore clothing in shades of red, white and blue, as participants in the SOS rally had been asked to do by its organizers.
"It's patriotic to speak up and question the people in authority in a responsible way,'' said psychiatric nurse Karen DuBose, who came to the rally in a bright red sweater with an American flag embroidered on the front - and a `No War' sticker above it.
"Patriotism means it's my duty to question what's going on, think about the issues and be involved in the affairs of my country,'' she said.
Becca Steinhoff, a ninth-grader at Asheville High School who attended the protest with a group of friends, said she welcomed the side-by-side rallies. "It's not unpatriotic to disagree,'' she said. "The fighting is never going to stop over there if it doesn't stop here.''
Asheville police officer Lee Roy Lunsford estimated the crowd at 500 to 700 at the height of the rally, while organizer Cecil Bothwell, a member of the peace activist group Small Change, said he believes there were at least 1,000 participants.
There were dozens of children and dogs in the midst of the square, as their parents and owners chanted the words, "Support our soldiers - bring them home,'' throughout the three and a half hour rally, which ended with a march through downtown.
Former state Rep. Marie Colton said she is not unconditionally opposed to war with Iraq. "But we haven't exhausted the possibilities,'' she said. "We've worked so hard to get the international institutions working properly, and we need to let the process continue. We've lost our standing in the eyes of the world, and we need to let them (United Nations) officials do their work.''
© 2003 ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES