Major Anti-War March Planned in Washington

Anti-war demonstrators holding a march this weekend in the capital will be comparing the situation in Iraq to the Vietnam era. Supporters of President Bush's policy in the Persian Gulf say the Vietnam comparison is off base, and will stage counter-demonstrations.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here in Washington, anti-war activists are preparing for a weekend protest against the war in Iraq. Anticipating their arrival, President Bush yesterday spoke out about those who oppose the war.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some Americans want us to withdraw our troops so that we can escape the violence. I recognize their good intentions, but their position is wrong.

INSKEEP: Protesters will be comparing the situation in Iraq to the Vietnam era. Now supporters of the president and the war say the Vietnam comparison is off base and they will be demonstrating in the capital this weekend, too, as NPR's Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER reporting:

In October of 1967, anti-war activists marched on the Pentagon. They were met by police and National Guard troops.

(Soundbite of 1967 protest)

Unidentified Man: Demonstrators must depart from the Pentagon grounds by midnight.

MARSHALL-GENZER: The anti-war movement had been brewing for years, but it really hit its stride with this march. Protesters filled the area around the Lincoln Memorial, then proceeded across the Potomac River to the Pentagon. Julian Bond was a prominent anti-war activist at the time and a co-chairman of the '67 march. He sees definite parallels between 1967 and today.

Mr. JULIAN BOND: The parallels are numerous: an enraged citizenry, a government which seems tone deaf to any entreaties from the citizens or from members of Congress, a war growing in unpopularity almost every day, hostility of almost every other democratic nation in the world. The parallels are frightening to consider.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Bond says the public is starting to consider those parallels and that national opinion on the war is reaching a tipping point. Bond says that's why Cindy Sheehan caused such a stir when she set up a camp near President Bush's ranch in Texas named after her soldier son Casey, who was killed in Iraq. Sheehan will be a featured speaker at a rally before tomorrow's march. She was greeted by a crowd of more than two dozen reporters and photographers when she arrived in Washington Wednesday. The crush was so intense she couldn't move.

(Soundbite of people talking and chanting)

Protesters: (In unison) What do we want? Withdrawal! When do we want it? Now!

MARSHALL-GENZER: Sheehan eventually managed to march with chanting supporters to Capitol Hill. She met this week with some members of Congress, including Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Sheehan's message to Congress includes references to Vietnam.

Ms. CINDY SHEEHAN: We don't want to see the devastation that occurred in Vietnam. We didn't want to see this much devastation. And in Vietnam, they dawdled and dawdled and dawdled and finally pulled out. So here, why don't we just admit mistakes and get out of there?

Mr. WILLIAM GREENE (Founder, RightMarch.com): Iraq is nothing like Vietnam. What we have in this situation is more akin to World War II.

MARSHALL-GENZER: That's William Greene, founder of RightMarch.com and the organizer of this weekend's counterprotest and rally in support of the Iraq War. Greene says Sheehan and other anti-war activists are using the Vietnam War as part of their strategy.

Mr. GREENE: They want it to be like Vietnam because they see that Vietnam became a failure, and a lot of it had to do with being able to turn public opinion against the war. They want to be able to do that again. If they can turn public opinion against the war in the same way, then it is another Vietnam.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Greene says the turnout for his rally on Sunday will be much smaller than the throngs of anti-war protesters expected tomorrow. Greene says that's because he only started organizing two weeks ago. But organizers of the anti-war march say the tide is turning. Brian Becker of International ANSWER is expecting lots of new faces tomorrow.

Mr. BRIAN BECKER (International ANSWER): We hear from people who said that they supported President Bush in the last election even and who have turned just in the last few months against the war, because they now believe that Bush was lying. And once they believe that the government is lying to them, they don't want another drop of blood to be spilled.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Becker says, for the first time in a decade, the protesters have a permit to march down Pennsylvania Avenue right past the White House. President Bush, however, won't be there. He's scheduled to be out of town all weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Marshall-Genzer in Washington.

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