By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 27, 2007; 2:36 PM
Tens of thousands of demonstrators from across the country converged on the Mall in Washington today to urge the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as President Bush is proposing to send more troops in an effort to stabilize the country.
The event, organized by the group United for Peace and Justice, appeared to draw fewer than the 100,000 people that authorities had said might come. It began with a rally at 11 a.m. and was followed by a march around the Capitol.
Among those who addressed the crowd were Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Jesse Jackson.
Fonda seemed to acknowledge her past role as a provocative figure. "I haven't spoken at an antiwar rally for 34 years," she told the crowd, adding that she had been afraid that lies about her past could undermine the antiwar cause. "Silence is no longer an option," she said.
"I'm so sad that we still have to do this, that we didn't learn the lessons of the Vietnam War," she said, including approaching the people of a foreign land with "hubris and arrogance."
Still, she took pains to praise the service men and women and their families who have come out against the war in Iraq, saying it took twice as long -- six years -- for the same thing to happen during the Vietnam War era. "Their presence here is critical and we should acknowledge their courage."
The enthusiastic crowd was generally good natured and orderly, waving hundreds of placards and chanting slogans such as "Not another day, not another dollar" and "This is what democracy looks like."
Barbara Abrams, 78, from Rochester, N.Y., waded into the crowd near the stage and helped hold up a banner saying "Raging Grannies."
"I think we should pull out of Iraq," she said. "I think the 20,000 soldiers should be sent with all the money to New Orleans."
When asked whether she thought the United States had some duty to try to stop the bloodshed in Iraq, she replied, "Nonsense. Those people have an old and noble civilization and they can take care of themselves."
Some of the protesters said they were saddened that a U.S. pullout of Iraq could leave behind a chaotic and violent situation. Nonetheless, they wanted troops withdrawn.
"Yes, I know that they are human beings and they are dying too, but those people have been in conflict for generations," said Gloria Jackson, 55, a teacher who traveled from the Fredericksburg, Va., area. "We made it more dangerous, but in the same breath I don't want anymore Americans dying. It's time to come home."
Mark Ballard, 30, of New York City, came wearing a replica army helmet that had glued on the top a President Bush doll holding assault weapons. "I don't do much protesting," he said. "I guess I came to this one because I've been complaining for four years. It's time to sacrifice a Saturday."
Shortly before the march kicked off, Jesse Jackson took the stage, receiving a rousing applause when he said, "Keep hope alive."
"America is a fundamentally good nation," Jackson told the crowd. "The war in Iraq is causing a war on the poor at home. We do not need more troops in Iraq. We need more money at home."
Earlier in the day, a smaller rally was held at the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue. About 3,000 people, many wearing pink or carrying pink signs, showed up for an antiwar protest sponsored by a women-run peace organization called CodePink.
Oriana Futrell, a Spokane, Wash., resident who said she has grown weary of going to the funerals of her friends' husbands, carried a sign also urging the return of her husband, an Army lieutenant in Iraq.
Across the street, however, was a counter-protest, staged by the Washington chapter of the conservative organization FreeRepublic.com. Those protesters, who organizers said feared that the antiwar march would hurt the U.S. anti-terror efforts, yelled and sported signs, such as one that read, "Go to hell traitors. You dishonor our dead on hallowed ground."
At least one veteran from the Iraq war tried to bridge the divide between the groups. Cpl. Joshua Sparling, 25, from Port Huron, Mich., who lost his right leg below the knee in an 2005 explosion in Ramadi, spoke to both groups.
Near the end of the CodePink rally, Sparling, a patient at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital who used crutches to walk, went to the microphone and told the protesters that they are entitled to the right to demonstrate and must fight for what they believe in. But he reminded them that the situation is dire for many Iraqis and U.S. troops there believe that they are fighting to help provide a better option for the people of Iraq. He was rewarded with general applause, although a few feint boos could be heard.
When he finished, he walked across the street and spoke with the FreeRepublic group also.
The event was expected to draw groups of many stripes. The assembly site had sections reserved for veterans and labor, gay and peace organizations, in addition to others dedicated to opposing global warming, nuclear arms and torture and a group called End Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
Henry Singleton, 55, of New York, helped organize a contingent of health care union members who came to the rally from Washington, Baltimore and New York. He said the group had 55 buses coming into Washington from New York carrying protesters.
"This war is a problem for our members and it's a problem for our members' children, he said. "It's sad to see our members in the National Guard told to go to war and then to come back and have problems getting their jobs back."
Some of the demonstrators began gearing up yesterday.
Amid frigid temperatures and a biting wind, CodePink and the group Iraqi Voices for Peace held a rally at noon on the Mall in front of the Capitol.
With songs and speeches, the groups unveiled an installation of several thousand shoes in and around a clear plastic bin, which they said symbolize Iraqi civilians who have died since the war began. The shoes bear tags with names that the protesters said are those of Iraqis killed in the war, along with a few details of their deaths.
"We don't talk enough about the suffering and the pain that the Iraqis are experiencing," Jodie Evans, co-founder of CodePink, said on the Mall yesterday. "We do a lot of talking. But when you visually see a pair of shoes with a tag on it that says, 'So and so, aged 3, died in a bombing in Fallujah,' it becomes very real for you, the cost of this war."
Evans said the shoe installation, which she said the group used during last year's election campaign, was inspired by the display of concentration camp victims' shoes at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "I remembered how powerfully it affected me," she said.
In Arab culture, shoes can be a sensitive issue, said Aseel Albanna, a District architect, Baghdad native and co-founder of Iraqi Voices for Peace. The improper display of the bottoms of shoes can be impolite, and shoes are traditionally left at the threshold of a house upon entering.
But in this case, she said on the Mall yesterday, symbolism is more important than tradition.
The groups cited a study by Johns Hopkins University last year that estimated that almost 655,000 civilian deaths in Iraq have occurred as a result of the war. President Bush had placed that number at 30,000, and a British-based group research group at about 50,000.
"We were surprised" at the study's findings, said Shannon C. Doocy, a Hopkins research associate who co-authored the study. "I don't think anyone intended the war to have this large of a consequence."
Staff writers Ruben Castaneda, Fredrick Kunkle, Michael Laris and Sue Anne Pressley contributed to this report.