Vigils mourn 3,000 dead, call for end to Iraq war

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“We’re here to mourn the lives lost and we’re here to renew our call for an end to the war and for the safe return of our troops home,” Colin Eager, executive director of the Western New York Peace Center, told a New Years Day candlelight vigil in Buffalo, N.Y. It was one of more than 300 antiwar vigils in 46 states around the country marking the 3,000th U.S. death in Iraq.

In Buffalo’s Bidwell Park, wooden crosses were set up to memorialize the dead, and some 80 participants took turns reading out the names of 43 troops from the region who have been killed in Iraq. A resolution recently passed by the Buffalo Common Council was read aloud, calling on the area’s congressional delegation to stop funding for the war. The resolution accused the Bush administration of wasting $380 billion on the war, draining $297 million from this city whose poverty rate is more than double the national average.

In southern California, the Whittier Area Peace and Justice Coalition and Military Families Speak Out San Gabriel Chapter held a vigil on the last day of 2006 with the message “Bush lied, 3,000 died; bring our troops home, call Congress.” They displayed the congressional switchboard number, and passers-by copied it into their cell phones. Many honked in support. On Jan. 6, Military Families Speak Out Orange County Chapter held a 24-hour vigil in Garden Grove. They hung 3,000 crosses, crescents, stars of David and American flags on a chain-link fence, and read aloud the names of the dead.

In Davis, Calif., a New Year’s Eve vigil of some 400 people was organized by a new high school group, Youth for Hope. In the city’s Central Park, they set up 10,000 lumieres, white paper bags containing a candle set in sand. Speakers said 3,000 of the lumieres were for the American war dead, while each of the other 7,000 represented 100 Iraqi dead.

In Sacramento, veterans, religious leaders and antiwar activists converged on the federal building Jan. 4 to press Rep. Doris Matsui and Congress to end funding for the Iraq occupation. George Main, Veterans for Peace Sacramento Chapter president and a member of the Sacramento Coalition to End the War, which sponsored the event, said cutting off funding would end “the killing and maiming of tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, and the waste of hundreds of billions of tax dollars.”

Bishop Beverly Shamana of the United Methodist Church urged Matsui to make the moral choice to stop funding the occupation. “It is time to bring the troops home,” she said.

Winnie Detwiler of Sacramento Area Peace Action noted that local taxpayers “are paying almost $684 million for this tragic fiasco.” It could have been spent for health care, education, housing, disaster preparedness, job training or “many other constructive uses,” she said.

In Staten Island, N.Y., Military Families Speak Out and Peace Action members, veterans and others held a candlelight vigil Dec. 31 at the office of Republican Rep. Vito Fossella. More than 50 people lined the street, holding signs and chanting, “Out of Iraq now, no more deployments.” One participant reported, “The response from the community and cars passing by was so positive and uplifting.” The following day, at another vigil at Fossella’s office, participants read the names of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Nearly 200 people gathered at a candlelight vigil outside Philadelphia’s City Hall Jan. 2. A bell was tolled every 10 seconds by members of the Brandywine Peace Community as the names of the more than 140 Pennsylvanians killed in the war were read, along with names of Iraqis who have died. Among the speakers was Celeste Zappala, member of Gold Star Families Speak Out, whose son was killed in Iraq in 2004.

In Louisville, Ky., several hundred gathered Jan. 2 at a major intersection where the Louisville Peace Action Community had hung T-shirts along several blocks. Among the shirts were signs bearing messages like “I wish I had seen my baby” and “I played soccer.”

“The shirts represent bodies. And I think people need to see how huge a body count it is — and that’s just for Americans, not Iraqis,” participant Gary Watrous, 65, told a reporter. “This is not just statistics. These are sons and daughters, real people who are fighting nobly and deserve our honor in a totally misguided war.”

Debra Anderson, Dan Bacher, Rossana Cambron, Rosita Johnson, Eileen Reardon, Gail Ryall and Ben Sears contributed to this article.