John Blanding/Globe Staff Photo
A group of peace activists walked through Natick after Saturday's rally.
Saturday's peace demonstration was decidedly different from the one seven years ago when dozens of protesters squared off against police in riot gear and 18 demonstrators protesting the US invasion of Iraq were arrested after they blocked the gate to the Army Natick Soldier Systems Center.
About 20 people, including some who marched seven years ago, gathered Saturday on Natick Town Common and walked three-quarters of a mile down Route 27 to the entrance of the military research center.
The only police presence was a lone officer who helped the marchers cross Route 27, and the number of people expressing solidarity by honking their car horns seemed to equal those who participated.
‘‘Although our numbers may be small, our voices need to be heard,’’ said Rob Kearns, 43, of Walpole, a former Marine, a member of Veterans for Peace, and a regular attendee at any peace events.
Kearns choked up as he read aloud the names of Massachusetts soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past year.
‘‘Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged,’’ Kearns told the crowd. ‘‘Violence is never the answer. War is never the answer.’’
Saturday's protest comes on the heels of the deadliest year for American troops in Afghanistan as operations against Taliban insurgents there have picked up. Since taking office, President Obama has increased the US troop presence there by 47,000 to nearly 100,000.
The numbers are not lost on people like Ed Shedd, 81, of Natick. ‘‘I was hoping they’d do something,’’ said Shedd of the current administration, for which he campaigned.
Shedd estimates he has spent 80 percent of his Saturdays over the past seven years — last week’s soaking weather included — attending a peace vigil on the Natick Town Common.
In that span, 5,378 American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, 100 were from Massachusetts.
Demonstrators carried signs reading ‘‘War is a racket/A few profit, the many pay’’ and ‘‘End the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.’’
Grace Ross, who ran for governor as the Green-Rainbow candidate in 2006 and is hoping to get on this year’s Democratic ticket, attended, as did Sarah Fuhro, 68, one of the 18 people who were arrested on March 20, 2003, the day after Bush announced the Iraq invasion.
‘‘I didn’t have any intention to be arrested, but I felt very strongly that we were making a very big mistake,’’ said Fuhro, who is a member of Military Families Speak Out and has a son who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
She acted as the event’s organizer, leading people from the common to the World War II and Korean War memorials up the street and finally to the sign marking the way to the Army center.
‘‘It still feels like a mistake [all these] deaths later,’’ said Fuhro.
But not even Saturday's sunny, 70-degree weather could attract more than a core group of dedicated activists. Several attendees said they’d been involved in the peace movement since the 1980s, when the Cold War was in full swing.
‘‘For the life of me, I can’t figure out why’’ so many people are apathetic, said Kearns. He said he spends sleepless nights worrying about the war. ‘‘It’s hard for people in the peace movement to not get discouraged.’’
Megan McKee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.