Antiwar protests mark Iraq anniversary

The crowd in Washington on the anniversary of the U.S. invasion was full of the usual characters.

By Amanda Silverman
Published March 19, 2008 10:24PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- What's an antiwar protest without a little camo, a faded Army green bucket hat covered in "Impeach Bush!" pins and a Neil Young look-alike chanting witty rhymes over a megaphone?

At first, today's march in Washington seemed no different from any other small antiwar demonstration, as a hundred or so vets and family members joined together on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. But not everything was high drama of the level you saw in that famous "Forrest Gump" scene -- no arrests, and no swimming in the Reflecting Pool.

The central message was clear and simple, as evidenced by the protesters' repeated chant, "1-2-3-4, No War." The participants, mainly members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, wanted the troops pulled out of Iraq, and they wanted it five years ago.

As for the average protester bio, that wasn't so clear and simple. There were of course the hippies sporting purple socks and Tevas to match long, unkempt chestnut hair. And there was the dead ringer for Neil Young, sideburns and all, who told me about a time a few years ago that he and a small group went to the White House and asked the Secret Service if the group could get inside to complete a citizen's arrest of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Shockingly, this tactic didn't work. So instead they took crime scene tape and wrapped it around the entire White House, where it supposedly remained for three hours.

But, examined as a whole, the protesters seemed to cover every age range, walk of life and tour of duty. There was 23-year-old Iraq vet Dan Murphy, sporting baggy jeans and a faded Boston Red Sox cap. There was middle-aged part-time life coach, part-time plumber and Desert Storm vet Mark Ruter, a man who stood out for his impressively dark mid-March tan and his completely shaved head, complemented by a gray and brown beard that reached his chest. And there was also white-haired, 77-year-old Korean War vet Dick Smith, there with his wife, 75-year-old Ann Smith. Since turning 70, they said, both of the Smiths have been arrested for protesting the war.

The real head honcho today, though, seemed to be another Iraq vet, 26-year-old Adam Kokesh. Kokesh is the co-chairman of the Board of the IVAW. He testified at the Winter Soldier event this past weekend, and is working on a master's degree at George Washington University. While Kokesh has been active in the IVAW for only a little more than a year, he led the march all morning with a few other Iraq vets in full sand camouflage, he spoke at every stop, and he was one of four to climb a 15-foot iron fence surrounding the National Archives to stand illegally between the building's pillars, wave the flag and address "the criminals who have taken power in our country." Later, speaking with Salon, Kokesh was giddy and proud, talking about his National Archives commotion and the way the group evaded arrest through a "plea bargain" (although he admitted he has been arrested six times in the past year, though never convicted).

Kokesh considers speaking out an "obligation," and says that it's his mission "to complete the picture given to the American people for what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan." Next on his plate: working on a support network for Iraq vets called Homefront Battle Buddies.

But the real question of the hour (OK, OK, year) that I went around asking, because I just can't seem to get enough of it: Who are you voting for?

Let's just say I got several "colorful" answers about John McCain, and the next 100 years.

Amanda Silverman

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