Hundreds of boisterous antiwar protesters snarled lunchtime traffic in Washington, D.C., today, chanting antiwar slogans, waving signs, and hoisting papier-mâché effigies of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Wearing faded T-shirts that said, "Funk the War," they marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq conflict by demanding an end to U.S. military activity there.
It was a youthful crowd; most of the protesters were college-age or slightly older. At one intersection, police on bicycles surrounded the mass but largely left them alone. Demonstrators danced with upraised arms and scribbled chalk messages in the middle of the street. "You are f---ing up my democracy," read one. Another: "List of things API [American Petroleum Institute] cares about: money."
Elsewhere in the city, protesters chanted outside the Internal Revenue Service near the National Mall (at least 14 people, according to reports, were arrested), and a group of antiwar military veterans marched on the White House and other sites. The protests were expected to culminate on Capitol Hill, where demonstrators were to march on the Democratic National Committee. The message: blaming congressional leaders for failing to alter the course of the war.
In short, there was a lot of noise, a few headaches, and a number of befuddled federal workers watching the scene. And compared with other historical events, it was a small crowd. More than 100,000 protesters descended upon the Pentagon in 1967 to protest the escalation of the Vietnam War. By comparison, the home base for today's protesters, the one-block-long McPherson Square, was only about half full around 1 p.m. And the other half of the park was empty save for a few homeless individuals nodding off.
Even so, some spirited proxy wars were erupting on the streets. The mob briefly ground to a halt in front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Center, still gyrating and twisting the lyrics of a popular Gwen Stefani song into "this war is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S." Standing just outside the recruiting center were several current or former servicemen, including Coby Dillard, who said he served on the USS Constitution as a Navy petty officer in 2003. At one point, a lob of red paint hit the sidewalk and exploded at Dillard's feet. "This is the blood that has been spilled," yelled a protester before being admonished by a noticeably perturbed organizer.
In fact, demonstrators suggested that their anger is not with the military, as was often the case with Vietnam, but with the president and the current Congress. "We are tired of the failed Bush policy," said Liz Hourican, an activist for the female antiwar group CodePink. "We need to get our combat troops out of Iraq and instead spend that money on healthcare and education."