By BEN MEYERSON, VEENA TREHAN AND WILL SKOWRONSKI, Capital News Service
Students march through downtown Washington, D.C., with a booming sound system as part of a protest called "Funk the War." (Photo: Ben Meyerson, Capital News Service)
WASHINGTON (March 20, 2008) - Her anti-war stance helped her knock off the incumbent in Maryland's 4th Congressional District, and on Wednesday it made Donna Edwards one of the keynote speakers in a day of protests on the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq.
"Three thousand, nine hundred and ninety lives later, five years later, nearly 30,000 injuries later, untold psychological damage to families and service members later," Edwards said in emotional, raspy voice that was barely there. "It's time to end the lies, to end the deceit, to end the money and to end the war."
Edwards took out Rep. Al Wynn, D-Mitchellville, in the February primary, a rematch of their 2006 race that she narrowly lost. She won the nomination with the help of several activist organizations, including MoveOn.org. On Wednesday, she marched with other protesters into the shadow of the White House.
And as powerful as that electoral message was, the words of fellow Marylander, Towson University professor Tracy Miller, had even more impact.
Miller lost her son, Cpl. Nick Ziolkowski, in the war.
"Five years ago, the day that we invaded Iraq, I was protesting in Towson where I live and it was pouring down rain there just as it is here," Miller said in a sober voice. "On Nov. 24, 2005, the day we buried my son at Arlington Cemetery, it was pouring down rain and now today it is. Do you see there's a significance?"
Citizens from all walks of life braved a steady rain to stage protests throughout Washington.
Student activists chained themselves to desks in the middle of the street, a giant missile with an effigy of President Bush decorated a corner and protesters costumed as polar bears stalked the streets with a booming soundtrack as the rain dampened turnout, but not the enthusiasm of the protesters.
As neighbors to the federal city, Marylanders were well represented at the day's packed slate of events from the early morning until the evening.
Young people were some of the loudest voices of the day. Lily Hughes, 22, of Takoma Park, towered on stilts in a bird costume above a crowd near the American Petroleum Institute.
"We felt that we'd been protesting for five years, and we needed to really step up our actions," said Hughes, who wasn't aligned with any particular group.
Elsewhere, a multi-group coalition of students led a raucous anti-war party called "Funk the War," through the streets of downtown Washington, blasting music and dancing their hearts out in the middle of the city, accompanied by the polar-bear duo.
The protesters rallied in front of the offices of prominent government contractors Lockheed Martin and Bechtel as well as an Army recruiting post before chaining and padlocking themselves to a circle of school desks just three blocks from the White House.
University of Maryland student Jonathan Berger, who came to the rally with College Park Students for a Democratic Society, was one of the desk stunt's organizers.
"The people who have their offices and do their business in this area are the ones who profit" from war, Berger said. "We're here today to say, 'No, it is not OK to profit from death and destruction.'"
Though Berger said the group originally intended to stay "through rush hour," they left after an hour as the rain grew heavier and the possibility of a thunderstorm loomed.
Anti-war protesters dominated the streets and grabbed attention, but counter-protesters didn't want to let them steal the show.
Six counter-demonstrators gathered at 14th and L streets in northwest Washington to protect a military recruiting station that was ransacked by student protesters in February.
Coby Dillard, who works at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the disruptive intentions of the protesters hurt their own cause.
"I think most people in the public would agree that you can disagree with the war, but there are some lines you don't cross," Dillard said. "There is a time and place to have the forum where we can talk it out and it's not here in the middle of the streets and not here at a recruiting station."
Ron Kirby, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran from Alexandria, Va., didn't support the invasion of Iraq, but doesn't want to lose now that the troops are there. Kirby said support groups like freerepublic.com, which he's a member of, won't allow anti-war protesters to vilify troops like they did during the Vietnam War.
"That's why we're here. We didn't really have the support then. We didn't have the people," said Kirby, who did a tour in Vietnam between 1966 and 1967. "We veterans have lived with that for 40 years."