Thousands Protest on Washington Mall

Thousands rally against Iraq war: Fonda, Conyers among speakers
January 28, 2007
FREE PRESS NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON — Convinced this is their moment, tens of thousands marched Saturday in an antiwar demonstration linking military families, ordinary people and an icon of the Vietnam protest movement in a spirited call to get out of Iraq.

“I just can’t sit by and watch the war continue if there is anything I can do to stop it,” said Stefani Barner, 28, of Mt. Clemens, a member of Military Families Speak Out; her husband, Robert, is an aircraft mechanic in the Michigan National Guard.

Celebrities, a half-dozen lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, and protesters from across the country rallied in the capital under a sunny sky, seizing an opportunity to press their cause with a Congress restive on the war and a country that has turned against the conflict.

Marching with them was Jane Fonda, in what she said was her first antiwar demonstration in 34 years.

“Silence is no longer an option,” Fonda said to cheers from the stage on the National Mall. The actress once derided as Hanoi Jane by conservatives for her stance on Vietnam said she had held back from activism so as not to be a distraction for the Iraq antiwar movement, but needed to speak out now.

The rally on the Mall unfolded peacefully, although about 300 protesters tried to rush the Capitol, running up the grassy lawn to the front of the building. Police on motorcycles tried to stop them, scuffling with some and barricading entrances.

United for Peace and Justice, a coalition group sponsoring the protest, had hoped 100,000 would come. Police, who no longer give official estimates, said privately the crowd was smaller than that.

Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, threatened to use congressional spending power to try to stop the war.

“George Bush has a habit of firing military leaders who tell him the Iraq war is failing,” he told the crowd. “He can’t fire you.” Referring to Congress, he added: “He can’t fire us.

“The founders of our country gave our Congress the power of the purse because they envisioned a scenario exactly like we find ourselves in today. Now only is it in our power, it is our obligation to stop Bush.”

About 40 people staged a counterprotest, including Army Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, who lost his leg to a bomb in Iraq.

He said the antiwar protesters “need to remember the sacrifice we have made and what our fallen comrades would say if they” were alive.

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