WASHINGTON – Anti-war protests drew noisy chants and quiet prayers across the country Wednesday as the United States moved closer to invading Iraq. Demonstrators were arrested after sitting down on the street in front of the White House and blocking entrances to government buildings in other cities.
"This is the last plea to avoid war," said John Passacantando, executive director of the environmental group Greenpeace, which joined a protest of 200 people in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Protests also took place in New York, Boston, Detroit and other cities.
About 50 yards away from the main protest in Washington, some 100 members of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace group, formed a circle and prayed for peace. Many carried color photos of Iraqi women and children.
"This war would have started two months ago if it were not for our actions," said Judith Kelly, 57, of Arlington, Va. "Our prayers, our vigils, our actions, they all count."
Several protesters, covered in fake blood and bandages and carrying dolls representing dead babies, visited the offices of congressional leaders. "Blood is on their hands," said one demonstrator, Constance Pohl, 63, of Baltimore.
In the evening, around 200 demonstrators, some wearing red dye on their faces and clothes to represent anticipated Iraqi civilian casualties, blocked rush hour traffic as they marched from a park near the White House to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's house in Northwest Washington. One person was arrested. "War is reprehensible," said one protester, Ryan Gardiner, 31, of Falls Church, Va.
Outside Rumsfeld's house, the crowd pleaded "Show your Face," and held bloodstained baby-size coffins in the air while chanting, "You have blood on your hands."
"This is absurd. The president and his staff are war mongers and leading the United States in a terrible direction," said John Parrish, 44, of Silver Spring, Md.
However, in Carson City, Nev., hundreds of flag-waving veterans and others gathered outside the state's legislative building to back U.S. military personnel poised to attack Iraq.
"We must not, we cannot, we will not allow the voice of dissent to tear our nation apart again," said Ray Alcorn, a retired U.S. Navy captain who spent seven years as a POW in North Vietnam. "The silent majority must become the vocal majority."
The coalition Win Without War announced plans for a candlelight vigil once hostilities break out, and for a campaign to support the troops by urging Congress to block Bush's proposed cuts in veterans' programs.
Following the prayer vigil, 27 protesters were arrested after climbing over a temporary metal fence separating the park from Pennsylvania Avenue. A White House staff photographer took pictures of demonstrators as they were cuffed.
In New York City, protests in downtown Manhattan drew about 300 people.
"I came because I have a feeling of helplessness that war is inevitable," said Robert Packer, 39, of Manhattan. "I couldn't let it happen without feeling I was doing something."
Anti-war protesters were arrested in Boston and Detroit for blocking entrances to federal buildings. In Madison, Wis., protesters blocked the entrance to Truax Field, home to a National Guard unit. Nearly three dozen people were cited or arrested in anti-war demonstrations in Madison and Milwaukee.
The protests were part of nonviolent anti-war demonstrations around the nation by the Iraq Pledge of Resistance, a coalition of 55 peace groups in the United States.
"I believe Saddam needs to be taken out of power, but not by killing of thousands of Iraqis," said Arriel Lannen, 23, of Arlington, Mass.
In Portland, Maine, more than 200 people rallied against war Wednesday. Police arrested 22 people on charges of obstructing a public way for failing to heed an order to clear a downtown intersection.
"Saddam Hussein is not a threat to us, so I'm very suspicious when I'm told that," said Olive Pierce, 78, of Camden, Maine. "I think it has do with power and presence in the Middle East."
About 50 people attended an anti-war rally in downtown Chicago Wednesday evening. "I'm so disheartened," said Leslie Walsh of Evanston, Ill. "I have spent all day calling all the politicians I could think of to let them know they work for me and I don't want war."