KENNEBUNKPORT - A high-spirited but peaceful crowd of about 4,000 protesters marched through the streets of Kennebunkport on Saturday in the largest anti-war rally in town history."I don't know what else to do but march," said Anne Chay, who was carrying a sign that read, "My son is still in Iraq." She walked with a Military Families Speak Out contingent.
Sweltering a bit in the muggy heat, the cheerful crowd represented the gamut, including military veterans and college students, first-time protesters and lifelong activists.
A young girl in a stroller held a sign reading, "War leaves every child behind," not far from a dozen-strong cluster of the Ragin' Grannies, a crowd-pleasing group of older women who sing silly anti-war songs and ditties while dressed in flamboyant clothes and hats.
"I find humor is the most useful weapon," said Joelen Mulvaney, who came by bus with a group from Vermont. "This is a very, very important event, and we want grandmother Barbara (Bush) to know about alternatives to war. She may not know about the alternatives because of who she hangs out with."
Police Chief Joe Bruni said there were no arrests. The only person hurt was a television cameraman who tripped and was treated for a minor injury.
Bruni, the longtime chief, has witnessed several major Kennebunkport protests, and he estimated the crowd size at
Before the march, demonstrators gathered at Consolidated School to hear from a slate of speakers, including peace activist Cindy Sheehan, who is running against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in California, and presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
Like several other speakers, Sheehan railed against elected officials -- particularly Democrats -- who have not moved to stop funding the war and have not supported impeachment proceedings against the president.
"We need people who speak the truth," said Sheehan, wearing a black campaign shirt that read "Arrest Cheney First." "We have to vote them all out."
She said she plans to beat Pelosi: "In America, we're ready for a change."
Although President Bush was not at his family's Kennebunkport home at Walker's Point, Sheehan and others made it clear that they hope Saturday's protest will send him a message.
"In August 2005, I went to Crawford (Texas) to ruin the vacation of the man who has ruined all of my vacations," said Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004.
After the 90-minute rally, the crowd walked a couple of miles to a site near Walker's Point. People caught off-guard by the protest stopped to watch the crowd, some of them clapping, some stone-faced.
The marchers clashed with small clusters of organized counterdemonstrators at several points. No arrests occurred, but one man said a marcher slapped a megaphone out of his hand while he sang "God Bless America."
As guests from the Colony Hotel looked on, the counterprotesters held up signs reading "Terrorists love
Democrats" and "Warning: Leftists trying to demoralize our troops." They shouted, "Casey was a hero; Cindy is a zero."
Members of the veterans motorcycle club Rolling Thunder revved their engines to drown out the protesters, while at the end of the march, the opposite tactic was used: Two small groups of demonstrators near Walker's Point faced off in uttersilence for several tense minutes, before the marchers sang "Give Peace a Chance."
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As police in riot gear stood nearby, the marchers spent a final few minutes singing and chanting within sight of the Bush compound. Bruni then asked them to leave.
The last protester was Mike Oren, a self-described "peacewalker" who has been on the road for years. As the others left, Oren plopped himself down in the middle of the street in front of the line of police, the sun shining off his shirtless torso and his large "peacewalker" tattoo across his shoulders. He flashed officers a peace sign.
Byron Grant, who organized the counterprotests by a group called Gathering of Eagles, said his group doesn't advocate war.
"We want this war over, too; but we want this war finished, not evacuated," said Grant, adding that the Eagles got a chance to talk to several protesters.
"We had some good dialogue with some of the protesters, and that doesn't usually happen. As they were walking off, one of the guys looked back at me and winked and gave me a thumbs-up. That was shocking."
Dick Nelson of Lebanon, N.H., came to the rally with his 16- year-old daughter, Andrea, who was wearing a "Global Warming is not cool" T-shirt.
"We were visiting Maine, and we just had to come," he said. "It seemed like our civic duty."
At the rally, dozens of tables were set up, with some groups selling food, T-shirts or books. Groups offered information
about upcoming demonstrations, the Green Party and candidates such as U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and state Sen. Ethan Strimling, D-Portland.
Code Pink had a large display of shoes of all sizes in the form of a peace sign, each representing a person who died in the war, from a 5-year-old Iraqi to members of the U.S.military. Another somber display was a small-scale monument reminiscent of the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., listing the names of U.S. troops killed in Iraq.
Julie Webster of Northampton, Mass., started to cry as she found the name of a man who had served with her son, who got out of the military last week after 13 years.
"These soldiers were just doing their job," she said, wiping away a tear.
Anti-war demonstrators reiterated their support for the individuals fighting the wars, and counterdemonstrators said the troops were the reason for protesting the anti-war marchers.
Karleen Cass, who had traveled from Vermont with a group called Families of the Fallen, said the protest disgusted her.
"They shouldn't live here if they don't support" the troops, said Cass, whose brother was killed in Iraq in 2004.
The protesters don't understand the sacrifices military personnel and their families make, Nikki Laprade said.
"It's a free country and we have freedom of speech, but we wouldn't have that without what our troops are doing," said Laprade, of Barre, Vt.
Several of the speakers at the rally were from the military or military families. Liam Madden, with Iraq Veterans Against the War, told crowd members that they were "actively building a movement of conscience within the military" to end the war.
"Our government has failed us," Madden said. "This war will not end by an act of Congress. It will end through an organized and collective act of conscience."
Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers