WASHINGTON – Some thought war is inevitable, others clung to hope they could slow or stop it. Either way, people in Washington and around the world joined Saturday in an outpouring of dissent no less persistent than the buildup of forces ready to strike Iraq.
The cries against war were summarized on the swarming grounds of the National Mall by Sally Baker, a teacher from Albany, N.Y.: "It's not right. It's not just. It's not going to make us any safer."
People rallied worldwide, in some cases pressing close to symbols of American power: the Washington Monument and the White House in Washington, the U.S. air base in Frankfurt, Germany, and U.S. embassies in Greece and Cyprus. They also took to the streets throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The rhetoric against U.S. policy was harsh from the stage in Washington but many in the crowd believed Saddam Hussein must somehow be contained — only not by an invasion, or at least not yet.
Lewis Wheeler, who came from Boston, said Bush appears all too eager to unleash the troops when he should be giving U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq more time to work.
"It seems like there is momentum building to use these soldiers," he said. "It's more glamorous to go to war than to hang in there with inspections for months and months and do the hard work."
In Baghdad, where the reality of U.S. power could arrive any day, hundreds of thousands protested against the policies of the country poised to invade them, in rallies organized by authorities.
Whether fatalistic or feeling they could still make a difference, Americans came from great distances to challenge the march toward war and President Bush's justifications for it. They said they were restless.
"The only thing I can do is get out in the street and say 'You're not doing this in my name,"' said Judy Ripley, 50, in Washington from Fort Myers, Fla.
Judy Robbins, 54, of Sedgwick, Maine, came on an 18-hour bus trip with her daughter Zoe, a nurse. "The alternative to being here," she said, "is just to stay home and give up."
District of Columbia police said 20 or more protesters, among about 100 who broke away from the rally, rushed inside the World Bank headquarters, where six were arrested for unlawful entry and others escaped by smashing a window.
Fifty yards from the Washington Monument, a display of poster-sized photographs showed Iraqi citizens going about their everyday activities. They were described as future war victims.
Iraqi civilians were on Heidi Johnson's mind at a rally drawing several hundred people in Concord, N.H. "It about brings me to tears, the thought that women and children are going to be killed in this war," said Johnson, 53.
In Washington, U.S. Park Police said permits were issued for 20,000 to march but the gathering seemed larger. The force no longer estimates rally attendance.
Protest organizers estimated the crowd was in the tens of thousands. It was smaller than some previous demonstrations in the capital against war with Iraq, in part because the date was changed and people had less time to prepare.
A companion rally in San Francisco also drew a smaller crowd of lively participants, including a group called Queers for Palestine and a trio of young women wearing see-through dresses and carrying signs reading, "War is not sexy."
Although Bush has not been swayed by demonstrations, Gary Sellani, 46, said "the protests around the world have given him great pain in the U.N. and given the U.N. backbone. That will probably be his downfall in 2004."
In Portland, Ore., demonstrators briefly blocked a bridge connecting the east and west sides of the city, with a single arrest resulting. Police gave no estimate of the total turnout, but protest organizers claimed 30,000 and media observers estimated half to two-thirds that number.
Sentiments at the world protests were as varied as the locales, with many people saying Saddam is no threat; others insisting the dangers he poses can be dealt with short of warfare.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., told the Washington rally: "We need a regime change in the United States." But he added that Saddam should be tried for war crimes.
Several dozen people stood on a Pennsylvania Avenue corner to challenge the antiwar activists. "We've got to take action," said Ainsley Hargus, 18, of Rockville, Md., a college freshman. "Sitting in a circle singing Kumbaya isn't going to change anything."
In Moundsville, W. Va., police said 3,000 to 3,500 people rallied in support of Bush and the more than 2,500 West Virginian National Guard and reserve members called to active duty.
Nancy Doty, who had three brothers in World War II and another brother killed in Korea, watched a pre-rally parade, her poodle dressed in red, white and blue. "I'm here to support the fellas," she said. "I hate to see the boys go, but if they have to go, I'm for them."
In Atlanta, thousands of flag-waving people chanted "USA! USA!" gathered at Centennial Olympic Park to support a possible American war with Iraq.
Participants said they were determined to have their voices heard in the face of anti-war protests that have gained more attention lately. Also Saturday in Georgia, a pro-military rally was held in the south Atlanta suburb of Fayetteville and an anti-war rally was held 60 miles east of Atlanta in Athens, home of the University of Georgia.
In Jackson, Mich., where people rallied in a park, Jann Krupa, 54, dared hope the peace mobilization would make a difference. "I think it's pretty obvious that the president is going to do this," she said.
But each week brings more protesters out, she said. "There is still a shred of hope."
Bush spent Saturday at the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat before his trip Sunday to the Azores Island for a meeting with British and Spanish counterparts. With the diplomatic endgame under way, the leaders are trying one more time to win U.N. Security Council support for a war resolution.
With some 250,000 soldiers, aviators and sailors deployed against Iraq, many at the Washington rally emphasized that they — like those who support a war — were thinking of the troops' well-being.
"We shouldn't send them over there unless we know it's the right thing to do," said Ferris Donoso of Rockport, Maine. "These are people with families they've left behind. I'm not going to ask them to fight this war."
She carried a sign reading, "Support Our Troops. Bring Them Home."