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USA Today: Masses to march on both sides of war

USA TODAY
By Martin Kasindorf
March 14, 2007

LOS ANGELES - From state legislatures to the streets, an emboldened anti-war movement is putting grass-roots pressure on Congress as it debates funding for the Iraq war. The increased pressure is spurring supporters of the war to mount counterprotests. Monday will mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the war. It comes as Congress is debating a White House request for $93.4 billion to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bill Hackwell, a national organizer for ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), says anti-war marches, rallies and vigils are scheduled in more than 1,000 communities starting Friday. A march on the Pentagon on Saturday is the centerpiece of the planned demonstrations. It will attract "tens of thousands, easily," Hackwell says. There will be other demonstrations this weekend in Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. Supporters of the war, meanwhile, are hoping to have their biggest demonstration to date. Kristinn Taylor expects thousands of people to "show support for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan" at a counterprotest he is helping organize in Washington on Saturday. He says his group is on the side of the troops and victory while the anti-war protesters are "cheering for the terrorists." Taylor says his people will also be guarding the Vietnam Veterans Memorial from desecration. He did not say he knew of any plans by anti-war demonstrators to target the memorial. In January, protesters spray-painted graffiti on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, the group Move America Forward is sponsoring a caravan of vehicles whose occupants are stopping in communities and organizing rallies in support of the war. Its plan is to be in Washington to hold a counterprotest, Taylor says. Various groups demanding that the Democrat-controlled Congress vote to withhold funding for the war have teamed up under the name Occupation Project to stage non-violent sit-ins at the offices of 28 members of Congress, either on Capitol Hill or in their home states, says Dan Pearson of the Chicago-based group Voices for Creative Non-violence. Police have arrested 163 members since Jan. 25, Pearson says. Those targeted include Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; and Barack Obama, D-Ill. All are presidential candidates. The Progressive States Network, an anti-war group opposing President Bush's increase in troop levels in Iraq, is lobbying states to pass symbolic resolutions against the buildup. Resolutions have been introduced in 29 legislatures since January, says Marisol Thomer, the group's outreach coordinator. Last month, the Vermont Legislature voted in opposition to the troop buildup. Legislative majorities in Maryland and Maine sent letters to their congressional delegations to vote against any escalation in Iraq. City councils in Cincinnati; Minneapolis; Duluth, Minn.; Gary, Ind.; and Maplewood, N.J., recently passed resolutions expressing support for U.S. troops but opposing an increase in the nation's military presence in Iraq. Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, says anti-war groups are encouraged because "for the first time since the war began, we have a real deadline to bring our troops safely home from Iraq under consideration in Congress." The point of all the action "is to pressure Congress to end the war," says Karen Dolan, executive director of Cities for Progress, an anti-war group. "But it's also a very powerful experience on the personal level for local people to go to City Hall and have their voices heard," Dolan says. An anti-war group called the Hip Hop Caucus is recruiting rap performers for a 16-city tour starting March 21. The tour will include six historically black universities and will reach out to Hispanic audiences, organizer Lennox Yearwood Jr. says.