Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=84419
Story Retrieval Date: 5/19/2013 11:45:19 AM CST
WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of people were dancing in the street around a stereo in a wagon – teenagers cutting class, senior citizens in pink and glitter, a duo dressed as polar bears, young adults rushing around writing anti-war slogans with chalk, and parents toting children clutching protest signs.
“I want to stop the war, but I don’t know if this is the way to get it done,” said Barry Turner as he watched the crowd outside the building where he works in downtown Washington. “I don’t understand why they’re here.”
Onlookers and participants gave mixed reviews for the new protest tactics used by anti-war activists Wednesday to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Instead of trying to get thousands to march from the White House to the Capitol en masse, as many protests do, the organizers planned a number of smaller events to single out war profiteers and other issues.
“We’ve had half a million people on the streets of D.C. and the president and Congress weren’t listening, so we decided to try something else,” said Samantha Miller, an organizer for United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of anti-war groups.
Even as American approval for the war remains low, it’s difficult to keep up the interest in demonstration in an age where joining a club on Facebook.com might be the preferred form of activism, said Leslie Cogan, national director for United for Peace and Justice.
Six in 10 Americans want the U.S. to set a timetable for troop withdrawal, according to Gallup polls, but permits for the D.C. protests showed organizers planned for only a few hundred activists to show up at each site. At some of the events there were nearly as many reporters as protesters.
“The question is not how big the protests are but how deep the opposition runs,” Cogan said. “A lot of people have not yet found a way to show their opposition.”
United for Peace and Justice worked out permits and logistics to provide the “creative space” for more than 30 groups from across the country to put together their own themed protests in Washington. The events ranged from a demonstration of waterboarding to a rally outside the Internal Revenue Service decrying the cost of the war to a line of people dressed in black with white masks who were intended to represent dead soldiers and Iraqis.
Several first-time protesters took to the streets and the new strategy let everyone find an event where they felt comfortable, said Lindsay Littlejohn, who came to the protest from Maryland with high school friends.
“I like that there’s more than one thing going on,” she said. “But maybe it’s too many.”
What Barry Turner saw outside his office was “Funk the War.” Students moved through traffic and stopped in intersections in front of target buildings such as an Army recruiting office and the American Petroleum Institute.
At one end of the spectrum, tourist families posed for quick pictures with borrowed protest signs. At the other, teens locked arms in the middle of the street and screamed “police state” at the rows of cops pushing them out of an intersection. Cars backed up for a few blocks in all directions, and heads popped out office windows at the sound of chanting and a marching band. A cluster of Domino’s employees paused pizza production to stand outside and watch.
“We all had to call in to work, but it’s better than playing to a bunch of empty office buildings on a weekend,” said Kate Garaufis, the 22-year-old cymbalist for a New York marching band that came for the protests.
Groups in support of the war mostly held their events over the weekend to commemorate the five years, although a few counter-protesters stood with an American flag outside an Army recruiting center to fend off anti-war activists.
One suit-wearing passerby started ripping down the yellow caution tape that protesters had set up to block an intersection and he dumped a can of soda over a protester’s head. He yelled, “You have no right to do this to people. Have you ever fought for your country?”
Ryan Gill, operations director for Move America Forward, said he disliked the anti-war groups’ strategy and said groups like his that support the war and especially support the troops didn’t plan on adding to Wednesday’s “circus atmosphere.”
“They shouldn’t be getting in the way of people trying to do their business,” he said. “Even if it’s in their free speech rights, it’s rude, and it may not even work.”