Peace Marches Draw Tens of Thousands Nationwide

Carrying signs such as "U.S. Out of Iraq Now! No War on Iran!" "Bring My Soldier Home" and "Money for Education Not War," about 10,000 anti-war protesters marched in the rain today in New York.

It was one of 11 such protests around the country taking place in cities from Los Angeles to Boston.

"We're doing a national demonstration in the form of regional action," said Leslie Cagan, national coordinator for the activist group United for Peace and Justice, which organized today's protests. "We know opposition to the war is widespread, so instead of inviting everyone to march on Washington, we're trying to make it as easy as possible for a large number of people to be out on the streets."

But getting people out on the streets has proved increasingly difficult since the large protests leading up to war. In the spring of 2003, hundreds of thousands turned out to march in New York, Washington and elsewhere, but those numbers have dropped off sharply in the past couple of years. A United for Peace and Justice rally in New York last March turned out only 10,000 protestors.

New York organizers hoped for 75,000 marchers today, but police estimated the crowd was significantly smaller -- saying only around 10,000 braved a rainstorm that may have kept others at home. (United for Peace and Justice estimated that 45,000 marched in New York.) In Los Angeles and San Francisco, organizers said about 15,000 turned out for the protests.

'A Very Big Challenge'

But fewer people in the streets does not necessarily mean fewer protestors, according to Paul Lichterman, an expert on grassroots politics at the University of Southern California.

"Protest has diversified since the anti-Vietnam war days," Lichterman said. "Marching down the street or occupying buildings are not the only means of protest ... Now, many thousands of people express their opposition to the current administration's war policies by donating money online."

"Then there are the millions of people who voted for a Democratic Congress, likely in part as a sign of opposition to the war policies," Lichterman added. "Some Americans may figure that the broader movement against the Iraq war has some space in official, institutional channels."

Cagan did not disagree.

"The anti-war movement has a very big challenge," Cagan said. "Seventy percent of the population opposes the war, so how do we provide vehicles for people to express their frustration in a more public way? We want to tap further into the population."

United for Peace and Justice organized today's rallies as a network of regional action instead of one, massive march in hopes of doing just that.

"We want to assert in a very clear, unified voice that opposition to this war exists in every corner of the country and send that message to Washington," Cagan said. "It's not that we haven't sent this message before. But until this war ends, we need to keep sending this message. We haven't gone away."

Raising Their Voices

For those who braved the rain in New York today -- where fellow protesters chanted "End the War Now!" -- raising their voices online is no match for raising them in the streets.

Michelle Haltin, 23, drove six hours from Rochester, N.Y., to attend today's rally.

"My fiancé's in Iraq," Haltin said. "There are so many people being affected by [this war]. I think if it affected [the people who are not marching] personally, then they might be here."

"In private, people do believe the war should end," said Rose Kregorio, 73, who attended today's protest with her husband. "Most of [the people I know] do want the war to end, but I don't know that they would necessarily come to a rally."

"It's not an automatic thing -- that people are against the war, therefore they'll be out in the streets," said Conor Read, 26, a student at New York's City College who is part of the Campus Anti-War Network, a national student action group.

"Sentiment doesn't necessarily translate into action," Read added. "People think, 'Well, does what I do matter? Does coming out to a protest matter?' I think it absolutely does."

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