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Rebuilding Iraq

Hardy demonstrators turn out for, against war

By Corey Dade, Globe Staff, 4/6/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq


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Snow mixing with rain and a wind chill making 36 degrees feel like 26 washed away hopes for a rousing antiwar demonstration on Boston Common yesterday. But the hardiest showed up to express passions both for and against the war in Iraq.

A prayer vigil on the steps of the State House attracted more media than participants as Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and British Consulate-General George Fergusson helped lead a tribute to troops from both nations, reading the names of military personnel who have died, been captured, or are missing in Iraq.

"It's impossible to put into words the gratitude we feel for our soldiers," Healey said. "Today we are here to tell them they are not alone, that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with them for the duration of this war."

Connie Irwin, a former state Republican Party leader, organized the vigil in response to news reports that US soldiers in Iraq felt a lack of support from Americans at home, given the highly publicized war protests in Boston and other cities.

Opinion polls since the US-led invasion began have continued to show overwhelming nationwide approval of the campaign.

Irwin attributed the poor turnout to the inclement weather, late notice, and scant publicity.

"I certainly don't think it's ambivalence by the public," she said, though she acknowledged that her pro-troops effort is likely to be misinterpreted as a prowar display.

"If you look at Americans, people are probably 99 percent in support of the troops, but then there is this [group] of people who don't support the war," she added.

After the prayer service, Irwin canceled a parade that was to follow because there weren't enough people. But about two dozen sympathizing students, mostly from Harvard, showed up and joined Irwin in waving American flags on Beacon Street.

The group was led by Brett Joshpe, a first-year Harvard law student who formed Students Protecting America nearly two months ago to counter antiwar views on college campuses.

In that time, the group has drawn more than 100 members from universities around New England, according to Joshpe.

"The antiwar protest has an organization all the way back to the Vietnam War, but we feel this is the beginning of our network," he said. "You generally don't see people demonstrating for the status quo. Nobody wants to appear barbaric or come across as a savage, because there are costs to war. That's something we take into consideration when we think about how we want to come across."

For that reason, Joshpe avoided a confrontation by leading his demonstrators away from war protesters gathering at the Park Street MBTA station. Some prowar people standing with Joshpe's group appeared eager to engage the peace activists, but relented.

The antiwar demonstration began with a comparatively larger crowd of about 50. Still, due to the relatively low attendance, the Committee for Peace & Human Rights also canceled its planned march.

Several activists delivered speeches against US policy that led to the invasion. And a form of protest art attracted a great deal of attention.

Four men dressed up to represent the oil industry, big business, the Bush adminstration, and "mainstream media" stood holding toy guns to the heads of three kneeling victims -- one blindfolded, one gagged, and another bound at the hands and legs by red, white, and blue bandanas. A fourth victim lay as if dead underneath an American flag.

"We are deaf, dumb, and blinded by patriotism," said Caroline Arpe, 26, who pulled together the display. "All of a sudden, if you're questioning the war you're not a patriot. The idea of patriotism is stopping us from seeing the truth, that this is an illegal war."

Meanwhile, US Senator Edward M. Kennedy and US Representative William Delahunt paid tribute to about 1,000 National Guard troops at Otis Air Force Base in Bourne. The two Democrats voted against the congressional resolution authorizing the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"It says a great deal about the character of a nation, about who it honors, and we honor all of you who are doing an extraordinary job in securing this nation and ensuring that all of our values are going to be preserved," Kennedy said.

In the Senate last week, Kennedy, who has blamed President Bush for insufficiently funding homeland security efforts in cities and towns, introduced an amendment to Bush's request for $75 billion in emergency war funding that would send an additional $24 million to local governments in Massachusetts for "first responders."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 4/6/2003.
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