N By John J. Goldman
EW YORK – As part of anti-war protests across the United States, hundreds of activists rallied outside the United Nations on Tuesday, urging President Bush not to invade Iraq.
Police arrested at least 150 people nationwide for highly choreographed acts of civil disobedience, including 99 demonstrators who blocked the entrance to the United States mission to the U.N.
In cities from coast to coast, groups sponsored candlelight vigils, marches, teach-ins, food drives and interfaith prayer services to mark International Human Rights Day. The goal, organizers explained, was to show the breadth of what they said is a burgeoning movement against the Bush administration’s threats of war.
Sponsors said the events were intended as a smaller follow-up to massive demonstrations held on October in Washington and San Francisco.
At the White House, a spokesman said the demonstrations were a “time-honored tradition” of democracy.
“We held over 120 events across the country to express our dismay at the prospect of a war,” said David Levy, an organizer with United for Peace, the loose-knit coalition that coordinated the anti-war activity.
In Anchorage, Alaska, a memorial celebrated the Human Rights Declaration, while in Vero Beach, Fla., marchers gathered by candlelight to press for peace for Iraq.
Protesters also were arrested in Chicago, for criminal trespass in the lobby of a federal office building; in Sacramento, Calif., for blocking the entrance to a U.S. courthouse; and in Washington, D.C., for refusing to leave a military recruiting station.
“It shows you opposition to the war is not just a marginal opinion of a few activists,” said Jen Carr, a spokeswoman for Peace Action, a principal member of the coalition that organized the events.
In Washington, activists held a lunch-hour march near the White House, and in the early evening about 100 people gathered outside the offices of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.
“No war for oil,” the pickets chanted, charging the committee serves as a front for the pro-war lobby.
Many of the roughly 500 people who gathered in New York sang protest songs from the Vietnam War era and recalled massive and sometimes violent rallies during the 1960s and ’70s.
“I went to my first demonstration in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 1969 and that kind of convinced me to be a peace activist and work for social justice,” said Bill Steyert, a retired worker for a public interest organization.
At the U.S. Mission to the U.N., protesters and police engaged in a polite, well-practiced political ballet.
Each person who refused to get up from in front of the building was photographed and courteously helped by officers into vans for the trip to court to face disorderly conduct charges charges for blocking the doors of the government property.
In Oakland, Calif., more than 500 people gathered at the federal building carrying some 200 small mock coffins bearing the image of Iraqi children.
“Iraqi children are not collateral damage,” proclaimed a large banner held above the coffins. Another banner showed a large oil tanker with the slogan, “USS War for Oil.”
The death theme was repeated in Providence, R.I., where about 100 Brown University students and faculty held a “die in” at the federal building.
In Los Angeles, more than 100 entertainers, including Matt Damon, David Duchovny, Laurence Fishburne, Martin Sheen, Diahann Carroll, Janeane Garofalo and Samuel L. Jackson, signed a letter to President Bush voicing their opposition to a war.
“War is a reflection of despair, and I refuse to accept despair. … We are called to be peacemakers,” said Sheen, who plays the president on NBC’s “The West Wing.” He appeared at a news conference with a group of other actors.
“We support rigorous U.N. weapons inspections to assure Iraq’s effective disarmament. However, a preemptive military invasion of Iraq will harm American national interests,” the letter said. “It will make us less, not more, secure.”