“We’re here to send a message: Stop the war. No more troops,” says Virginia Rovnyak, swaying at the front of the bus in which I’m riding.
Forty-five heads nod in agreement. The bus, filled to capacity, is one of four chartered by the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice (www.charlottesvillepeace.org) to carry locals to Washington, D.C. for last Saturday’s all-day march against the Iraq War and President Bush’s proposed surge of 20,000 more troops.
Anti-war protesters wanted peace in Iraq—but not in the streets of Washington, where tens of thousands converged on January 27. The Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice brought four busloads of local protesters.
The riders are a diverse lot. There’s Paul Shaup, now retired, who protested the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and wants to see for himself the viability of today’s antiwar movement. Also riding: Julie Mitchell and Lauren Laskey, 18-year-old UVA freshmen who fear a draft and figure people their age have the most to lose in the current conflict. Volunteer workers from Innisfree Village, a community for mentally disabled adults located just north of Crozet, are here, in addition to children and teachers from Tandem Friends School. Local Democrat, farmer and former Green Beret Al Weed, who has tried twice to unseat Congressman Virgil Goode, also stands out in the mix. Weed’s son has been serving in Iraq.
Arriving at the Mall outside the Capitol at 10:30am, the 200-some locals join an already bustling crowd of tens of thousands. (Event organizers later put the number of people in attendance at half a million, though traditionally organizers overestimate). Retrieving their signs, most of the Charlottesville group stages an impromptu march, circling the Mall from west to east. Others splinter off, checking out the dozens of tables where everything from Trotskyite buttons to pamphlets on nationalized health care and the so-called truth behind 9/11 are on sale or for the taking.
Meanwhile, as religious leaders, movie stars, parents of veterans, and generally pissed-off activists deliver speeches at a stage on the Mall’s east end, shaggy-haired kids kick around a Hacky Sack by the Capitol’s reflecting pool. Stilt-walkers wander through admiring crowds, and dozens of policemen lean against squad cars and buildings on the Mall’s periphery, careful to keep their distance. As the speeches wind down and the crowd continues to swell, the sheer volume of people dwarfs anything I have for comparison—even packed UVA football games.
In all the bedlam, I recognize Jim Bryan, an Albemarle man whose professionally made sign, calling for the impeachment and life imprisonment of Bush and his cronies, is winning him lots of compliments.
“Making this poster, I thought a lot about this war,” he tells me. “I think we’re in enough of a mess that people need to think about it every day. They need to quit avoiding thinking about it, and they need to find out something new every day.”