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War Protesters Gather in Washington, D.C.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In cities across the country and around the world yesterday, demonstrators turned out to protest the war in Iraq. A rally in Washington, DC, drew tens of thousands of people. NPR's Libby Lewis reports.

LIBBY LEWIS reporting:

The march drew grandmothers from Michigan, students from New York and survivors from Katrina. And it drew a number of friends and family of people serving in the military. Larry Sieverson came from Richmond, Virginia. He's 56 and an environmental engineer. Three of his sons have served in Iraq.

Mr. LARRY SIEVERSON (Anti-war Protester): So people can't say I'm not patriotic because I'm out here speaking out against the war when I've had three sons in the Iraq conflict.

LEWIS: His son, Bryce, spent 15 months in Iraq as a gunner for the 1st Armored Division. His father says his son spent time in a locked psychiatric ward at Walter Reed Army Hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder. Even so, he says, the Army has postponed his son's discharge.

Mr. SIEVERSON: At the present time, he can't be even near weapons; the Army doesn't trust him enough with a weapon. But he's still scheduled to go back to Iraq this winter. It doesn't make any sense to me.

LEWIS: Sieverson's so mad he's joined the anti-war group Military Families Speak Out.

Mr. SIEVERSON: So that's why I have a sign that says `Don't send my son back to Iraq.'

LEWIS: At a premarch rally, Cindy Sheehan, the California mother who lost her son Casey in Iraq and who protested at President Bush's ranch in Crawford, got a celebrity's welcome from the crowd.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

LEWIS: Sheehan said she was going to Congress on Monday.

Ms. CINDY SHEEHAN (Anti-war Protester): And we're gonna says `Shame on you! Shame on you for giving him the authority to invade Iraq!'

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

LEWIS: The protesters chanted `Peace now!' as they passed by the White House. President Bush was in Colorado and Texas watching hurricane relief efforts. There was some good humor at this march. It cropped up in some of the signs. Some chided the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. Amanda Frytag(ph) of Culpepper, Virginia, had a sign that read `Make levees, not war.' Claudia Kline(ph) of Cincinnati and Will Hawkins(ph) of Urbana, Illinois, admired that one.

Ms. CLAUDIA KLINE (Anti-war Protester): Yeah, that's a good one.

Mr. WILL HAWKINS (Anti-war Protester): Oh, boy, that's good.

Ms. KLINE: That is good.

Mr. HAWKINS: That is good.

LEWIS: The humor mostly vanished as the tens of thousands of marchers passed by a few hundred counterprotesters on Pennsylvania Avenue. They're planning their own demonstration today. Thirty-year-old James Mullen(ph), an emergency medical technician in Trenton, New Jersey, kept shouting at the protesters, `Ten years Marine Corps!'

Mr. JAMES MULLEN (Protester): But I think that they're dishonoring the people that have died there.

LEWIS: Protester Daniel Kane(ph) of Silver Spring, Maryland, faced off against Mullen. He said he respects Mullen's views. He says everyone has the right to speak up for what they believe in. Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah, we've got plenty of other people to taunt! We don't have time--we can't waste our time on you, baldy!

Unidentified Man #2: Then get lost.

Unidentified Woman: Then go home!

HANSEN: It's 22 minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Libby Lewis
Libby Lewis is an award-winning reporter on the National Desk whose pieces on issues of law, society, criminal justice, the military and social policy can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Day to Day, Weekend Edition Saturday, and other NPR shows.