WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq marched on the nation's capital Saturday through a gray drizzle, led by a mix of newcomers and established figures from the Vietnam and civil rights movements.
The demonstrators included hundreds of Minnesotans, many of whom traveled by bus overnight.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, folk singer Joan Baez and other celebrities took part. But the crowd favorite -- and the primary target of counterprotesters -- was Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville, Calif., mother of a soldier killed last year in Iraq who gained notice over the summer for demonstrating outside President Bush's Texas ranch.
"We need a people's movement to end this war!" Sheehan yelled into a microphone at a noon rally south of the White House, before the march began.
Jackson compared Sheehan to such icons as Rosa Parks and Helen Keller. And as Sheehan led marchers onto the street, women clamored to touch her or snap a photograph and called out "You're our hero!" and "We love you, Cindy!"
A spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, one of the groups organizing the demonstration, said the march and rally combined had drawn 300,000 people. D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said the crowd likely had reached 100,000.
The Twin Cities contingent included hundreds affiliated with Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), St. Joan of Arc Church, the Anti-War Committee and the DFL Party. For many Minnesotans, it was their first national protest. That wasn't the case with Marv Davidov, 74, of Minneapolis, who joked that he "picketed Abraham Lincoln."
"This kind of activity counts," said Davidov, sitting in a wheelchair and fingering a cigarette. "I've seen it before -- I went to Mississippi in '61 for the Freedom Rides and resisted the war in Vietnam for 11 years."
Jonathan Warnberg, 31, of St. Paul was a newcomer to both a national protest and Washington, D.C. He said he wasn't sure how he would feel when he first saw the White House; he compared his emotions to when he visited ground zero in New York City in April 2002. "This is equally heavy to me," Warnberg said.
Anne Winkler-Morey, 47, of Minneapolis was participating in her first national protest in 20 years. She came on a WAMM bus while her husband, David, and daughter, Emily, demonstrated in St. Paul.
Winkler-Morey said the federal response to Hurricane Katrina motivated people to come out.
Julie Madden, 43, of Minneapolis, brought her 13-year-old son Josh, for whom she planned to start a file to establish his conscientious objector status. Madden, who serves as peace and justice/pastoral ministry coordinator at St. Joan of Arc, said she hoped Saturday's rally continues to build a peace movement.
Counterprotesters, whose presence was relatively small Saturday, are staging their own rally today. But on Saturday afternoon, a few hundred of them lined Pennsylvania Avenue behind steel barricades, waving signs and criticizing the antiwar crowd.
David Giles, 48, of Springfield, Va., said the war was "a necessary evil" to topple Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime. "It's our duty as Christians to protect people who are oppressed," he said.
Bush was not at the White House to hear the protesters, having flown to Colorado and Texas to monitor Hurricane Rita. Vice President Dick Cheney was undergoing surgery at George Washington University Hospital.
In St. Paul, nearly 1,000 protesters of all ages gathered at Summit and Snelling Avenues to listen to August Nimtz, a University of Minnesota political science professor, and other peace advocates.
There were "Wellstone!" signs and bumper stickers, but also signs that read "Get the Halliburton out of Iraq,"War is not the answer,"Let's try honesty and intelligence," and, simply, "End the war" -- the same message that could be found on postcards that marchers such as Ann Galloway, 38, of Minneapolis, handed out. The postcards were to be mailed to Bush at the end of the brief march.
Rhonda DeBough, 40, of St. Paul wore on her back a sign that said her cousin, Michael Pederson, 26, was killed in Iraq two years ago. DeBough said Pederson's mother is Lila Lipscomb, who talked in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" about losing her son.
Staff writer Paul Levy, David Whitney of the Washington Bureau and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Aaron Blake is at ablakestartribune.com.
Copyright 2005 Star Tribune