End this war  As Iraq war enters fifth year, protests sweep the country

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands protested the Iraq war in Washington and in cities and towns across the nation the weekend of March 16-19, the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Braving bitter winds, freezing rain and snow, 3,500 Christian ministers marched four miles from the National Cathedral to the White House, which they completely encircled, in an evening vigil March 16. More than 200 clergy sat down on the sidewalk and were arrested demanding that President Bush end the war.

MoveOn.org, the online political action group, staged 1,188 vigils on the anniversary urging a strong vote for a $100 billion funding bill that would require withdrawal of troops from Iraq by August 2008. A poll of MoveOn members found 85 percent support for the bill. MoveOn’s e-mail quoted a message from member Ruel B. in California: “I agree it may not go far enough, but it is a first step … on the road to getting out of Iraq.” Bush is threatening to veto the legislation initiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Among those arrested in the Christian Peace Witness at the White House were the Revs. Marion Bascom, 82, and Heber Brown, both of Baltimore. “It’s important for Christians to join together to witness for peace, especially since this administration uses a perverted form of Christianity to justify unjust foreign and domestic policies,” Brown told the World. “If we are true to the Jesus of the Bible, we have to stand for affordable housing, health care for all, quality education that is not dictated by ZIP code and other social justice issues.”

Earlier, speaking to an overflow crowd at a prayer service at the National Cathedral, the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, declared, “This war from a Christian point of view is morally wrong and was from the beginning.”

Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia, whose son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, died in Iraq, said she spoke “as a witness to the true cost of war, the betrayal and madness that is the war in Iraq.” The next day, 30,000 gathered near the Vietnam Memorial Wall and marched across the Memorial Bridge to the Pentagon. Iraq Veterans Against the War chanted, “Support the troops, bring them home now.”

Jacqueline Green and Stacie Burgess, both wives of active-duty sailors stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Norfolk, Va., drove up to join the march. Green, who marched with her daughter, Kaila Rain, told the World, “I think this is the right place to be. I have a personal motive: My husband came close to being sent again to Iraq. I feel sympathy for the soldiers who are being sent there and those already in Iraq. It hits close to home and it’s scary.”

Hundreds gathered outside Baltimore City Hall Monday night to cheer unanimous adoption of a City Council resolution calling on Congress “to limit funding for Iraq to money needed to safely withdraw the troops,” to provide them health care and education benefits as well as funds to reconstruct Iraq.

Councilman Bernard “Jack” Young told the council taxpayers face a price tag of “half a trillion dollars to pay for an open-ended occupation of Iraq.” He said, “I got a call from a mother whose son is in Iraq asking me to do something to end this war. I didn’t know what to tell her. I’d like to call on President Bush to redirect that money.”

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who introduced the resolution, recalled her strong opposition to the Vietnam War 40 years ago. “That war ended because people in the grass roots spoke up,” she said. “I was raised in a religious tradition that spoke of a just war. This is not one. We love our troops. We want to bring them home.”

The crowd then marched to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church for a speak-out sponsored by Baltimore United for Peace and Justice. The Rev. Pierre Williams, associate pastor of the Govans Boundary United Methodist Church, told the crowd he is a Vietnam War combat veteran who struggled for 20 years with post-traumatic stress. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through,” he said.

He read a message from City Council President Stephanie Rawlings Blake. “Baltimore has lost 12 of its sons and daughters in a war that has drained our nation’s resources,” she wrote. “U.S. cities are facing overwhelming challenges. Neighborhood revitalization, affordable housing and aging infrastructure are just a few. … The resources of our city are stretched to tackle the many needs of our citizens.”

Donna Blackwell, president of the Winston-Govans Community Improvement Association, told the speak-out, “Bush is lying to us.” She said, “Let’s get up and inspire one another, motivate one another to tell Bush, ‘End this war!’ And speak to Congress because they can do it.”

That same day, 44 protesters were arrested in Wall Street when they attempted to block the entrances to the New York Stock Exchange to protest war profiteering by Halliburton, Bechtel and other corporations. “We wanted to bring a specific focus to Wall Street, to where all the profits are being made,” said Frida Berrigan, an organizer with the War Resisters League.

Large protests were also held in Chicago, Minneapolis, Hollywood, New York and cities around the world.