NEW YORK - More than 100,000 protesters yesterday filled the streets of Manhattan, railing against the war that President Bush waged in Iraq and demanding his defeat in the Nov. 2 election.
Under a light blue sky dotted with police helicopters, protesters in the largest demonstration ever at a political convention delivered their message in a blend of anger and art as they passed Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention begins today.
"Our voices are diverse, but our message is clear: We all want peace. The people of N.Y.C., the U.S., and the world are calling for peace," said Jonathan Crowell, a 29-year-old artist from New Jersey who designed a gigantic anti-Bush circular parachute banner.
The organizers of the march, United for Peace and Justice, estimated the crowd at 500,000, although a police official said it was about 120,000.
Police made about 100 arrests.
A "police observer" for the New York Civil Liberties Union said bike patrol officers appeared to target anarchists on bicycles in advance of tomorrow's day of "civil disobedience and direct action."
About four hours after the march ended, police arrested about 70 protesters at Times Square on charges of disorderly conduct for blocking traffic.
Activists chanted "Our Streets" and "Go home, RNC," and carried a banner with the message "Your time has come, Republican scum" before police used nets to detain and handcuff them.
A police officer said those arrested had failed to heed a "disperse" order, but members of the New York Lawyers Guild said there was nowhere to go after police cornered the protesters.
In addition to police officers in riot gear and helicopters at the massive march, police had a blimp that can capture high-definition images of people's faces.
Chad Salamon, a 24-year-old Army National Guard member from Ravenna, Ohio, served in Iraq from February to mid-June as a mechanic for a medical company. He marched yesterday as a member of Iraq Veterans against the War.
"There's no justification for the war at all. It's not helping our security and we're not in any way really helping the Iraqi people.
"We're losing hearts and minds over there, creating more hatred and rage against the United States among Muslims - and that will create more terrorism in the future."
"The point over there is not just to get rid of Saddam, who was a terrible dictator. It was to make the situation better for Iraqis and I don't see how we've done that," Mr. Salamon added.
Robin Gearling traveled by bus from Canton, Ohio, yesterday to New York City.
She said her 23-year-old son, Richard Gearling, joined the Army a year ago so he eventually could go to college.
Ms. Gearling said her son arrived in Iraq in June and he was assigned to guard checkpoints, but she recently learned he's in a hospital. She said the military has not given her details.
"All I know is he didn't [know] who he was or where he was for two weeks," said Ms. Gearling, a 42-year-old unemployed bartender.
She said she opposes the war in Iraq. "All we're doing is padding Bush's pockets for more oil," she said.
As Ms. Gearling spoke, a protester nearby held a sign nearby with a black-and-white picture of Mr. Bush's daughter, Jenna, sticking her tongue out at the press with the caption "His kid." Underneath it was a picture of two flag-draped coffins with the message "Your kid."
Matti Mattson took to the streets 62 years after he and other Americans served in the "Abraham Lincoln Brigade" that fought in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists.
Mr. Mattson, 88, said he joined the protest because of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
"It's an illegal war and a war that's doing nobody any good and I don't think we should be fighting for oil. I didn't care for Saddam Hussein anymore than anybody else, but now that he's out they should declare victory and send the boys back home," said Mr. Mattson, who also said he served in the Army in World War II.
The parade route took a right turn at Seventh Avenue and West 34th Street, and that's where Jeremy Hauser stood, wearing a Bush-Cheney '04 T-shirt.
Mr. Hauser, who lives in Orange County, Calif., said he was a Marine sniper who served in the U.S.-led war to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis and also fought in Somalia.
It didn't take long before anti-Bush activists began to shout at him.
"I provided you the right to do what you do, which is free speech and protest," Mr. Hauser told a protester.
"No, you provided more money for Unocal and Chevron and Halliburton," a protester replied. "You weren't fighting for freedom."
State Rep. Steve Buehrer (R., Delta), an Ohio GOP delegate, said he didn't see any of the march. He said he didn't think the massive demonstration would affect the tight race between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry.
"There's a lot at stake in this race. It's about the future direction of our country," said Mr. Buehrer.
Although many people in the march wore stickers showing their support for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, they were far outnumbered by those with left-wing and radical messages.
Signs included "Bush Lies, Who Dies?", "Defeat Bush-Laden," and "No War for Empire." A popular T-shirt had the message "war, greed, hate, lies" and the pictures respectively of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Mr. Bush.
"This demonstration is provocative and I can't imagine Kerry endorsing something that touches such a nerve," said David Benjoya, a 41-year-old Brooklyn computer artist.
Mr. Benjoya was among the protesters who carried flag-draped cardboard boxes resembling coffins to protest the military's decision to not allow photographs to be taken of coffins carrying the dead from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
"The war has been sanitized and ignored. And as New Yorkers, many of us lost friends in the World Trade Center and we feel this is all one, long nightmare," said Mr. Benjoya, who said a musician he knew was killed in the terrorist attacks that destroyed the Twin Towers.
Former independent Toledo city councilman Mike Ferner, a Vietnam War veteran who became a conscientious objector, and his wife, activist Sue Carter, marched with fellow members of Veterans for Peace.
"I hope we send a very clear message to George Bush that the blood and suffering he has spilled in Iraq is going to be his undoing. The guy has got no idea what war is about. He should [by] now, but he has no first-hand experience," Mr. Ferner said.
The march ended without a rally because the city wouldn't give United for Peace and Justice a permit, saying the Great Lawn of Central Park would be damaged. The city prevailed in court on that issue.
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More than 100,000 protesters yesterday filled the streets of Manhattan, railing against the war that President Bush waged in Iraq and demanding his defeat in the November election. Under a light blue sky dotted with police helicopters, protesters in the largest demonstration ever at a political convention delivered their message in a blend of anger and art as they passed Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention begins today.