A week of events meant to crank up a national demonstration against the war in Iraq is set to begin Saturday, with a 1,000-person "die-in" at the U.S. Capitol led by current and former American troops and accompanied by taps and a mock 21-gun salute.
The die-in will be the culmination of a march and rally. Organizers hope the event will spur people in the antiwar movement to move from protesting to performing acts of civil disobedience that "get in the way of the war machine," said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, at a news conference yesterday at the National Press Club.
The group's permit with the U.S. Park Police is for 10,000 people, a source said, but ANSWER, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, expects tens of thousands, Becker said. More than 1,000 people had signed up on the group's Web site as of yesterday to lie down at the die-in, he said, which is meant to represent Americans, Iraqis and others who have died in the war. Organizers expect the number to double or triple by Saturday.
Daily antiwar events are planned from Saturday through Friday. War opponents are scheduled to go to Washington area military recruitment centers Monday to try to shut them down. On Wednesday, "Pentagon Outreach Day," Iraq veterans plan to walk through the Pentagon wearing antiwar T-shirts and talking about the conflict.
Across the country, war opponents are being encouraged to visit their congressional representatives' hometown offices and not leave until someone "gives them an explanation about the war," Becker said.
Protesters are to start gathering about 10 a.m. Saturday along the north side of the White House, in Lafayette Square. The official rally will be from noon to 1:30 p.m. Demonstrators will march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, where the die-in is to take place. Police said there will be rolling street closures along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The route will cross the jurisdictions of the U.S. Park Police, D.C. police and Capitol Police, which said they are beefing up patrols in preparation for arrests.
Two counterprotest groups, the Gathering of Eagles, made up of Vietnam veterans, and the D.C. chapter of the conservative group Free Republic, also have permits. They plan to rally at 9:30 a.m. on the Mall at Seventh Street NW and later line Pennsylvania Avenue NW between Seventh and 10th streets.
At a news conference Monday, Gathering of Eagles spokesman Kristinn Taylor said the group's purpose is "to not allow this generation of America's servicemen and women to be betrayed on the battlefield and at home, as happened during and after the Vietnam War."
But at the ANSWER news conference yesterday, Carlos Arredondo, whose son Alex was killed in Iraq in 2004, said, "My passport says 'We the people,' and we the people are responsible for stopping this madness." Arredondo held a folded U.S. flag in one hand and his open passport in the other.
Other speakers included antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan and Adam Kokesh, co-chairman of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
The antiwar movement "is far from where Bush would like you to think we are, that we are the fringe. They are the fringe. We are the mainstream," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, which encourages Muslim civic participation.
War opponents have carried out acts of civil disobedience since the war began, but Becker said the die-in will be different because it was conceived by and will be led by Iraq war veterans and their families.
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