Congress' decision to authorize war against Iraq disappointed and angered thousands of protesters nationwide Saturday, including an estimated 5,000 demonstrators in Los Angeles who unleashed a chorus of boos when the votes were announced.
The Westwood gathering was believed to be the largest anti-war demonstration in Los Angeles since the Vietnam War.
Hundreds of Wilshire Boulevard motorists honked horns in support of the demonstration on the lawn of the Westwood Federal Building, which featured a broad mix of ages, ethnic groups and political leanings. There were no arrests, and police said the only disturbance was shouting between anti-war activists and Kuwaitis and their supporters.
The Los Angeles rally--the fifth consecutive at the Westwood site--was the largest and perhaps best organized of several demonstrations across the nation that served as last-minute appeals to lawmakers considering whether to grant President Bush authority to launch U.S. troops into war. "No Blood for Oil" was an often repeated slogan as protesters urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
In Washington, hundreds of anti-war demonstrators chanted, marched, sang and prayed for peace in hastily staged protests on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and in front of the White House.
News reports described other expressions of protest: In Tallahassee, Fla., about 1,000 activists rallied near the state Capitol, invoking Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy as a peacemaker. In Philadelphia, about 700 protesters marched from City Hall to the Liberty Bell. In Chicago, 300 people prayed at a vigil for peace. In Portland, Ore., hundreds of protesters went into downtown streets, carrying signs and chanting. In Indianapolis, 11 people began a weekend-long fast for peace.
The demonstrations reflected the divided public opinion about the need for military action. In Washington, former Navy Secretary James Webb told some 100 members of the Military Family Support Network--an anti-war group of relatives of U.S. forces in the gulf--that the Administration has made "a series of miscalculations" in dealing with Iraq.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran, questioned the wisdom of U.S. involvement in a war without strong public support. "The possibility (exists) of a nation fighting as if it were at war but with justifiable dissent going on at the same time," he said. "I fought under those circumstances in Vietnam and it's not comfortable."
Activists predicted that anti-war sentiment will grow rapidly and that more aggressive protests will be staged in the wake of the decision by Congress. Protest leaders immediately stepped up recruitment for the peace movement.
"The power of the people will stop war. Only one group of people can decide war or peace. It is the people of the United States--you!" disabled Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic exhorted cheering protesters at the Westwood rally. Kovic predicted that a million Americans would march against war "if the body bags begin to come home."
Another veteran of Vietnam protests, Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), pointed out that many Americans who came of age in the 1960s now have children overseas in Operation Desert Shield. "We have an opportunity as parents not to let our sons and daughters be cannon fodder but to stand in the way," he told the crowd. "Say we will not stand for it. Say we will not allow it to happen."
Organizers of the Los Angeles demonstration estimated the crowd at more than 5,000. Federal security police estimated more than 4,000 protesters and about 200 Kuwait supporters.
The Kuwaitis, who support President Bush's policies, said a military threat still provides the best hope for a peaceful resolution. "We see the United Nations trying hard," said Mohammed Ali, a Kuwaiti. "I hope Saddam listens to reason because it will be a big tragedy for everyone in Kuwait if war comes."
But the Los Angeles Coalition Against U.S. Intervention in the Middle East, organizers of the rally, presented the dominant voice.
Groups ranging from from left-wing Maoists to the right-wing John Birch Society set up information booths. Speakers offered anti-war perspectives from Latino, African-American, Arab-American and other viewpoints.
"Mexicans and other Latinos were 20% of the Vietnam casualties," Leo Guerra of the Chicano-Mexicano Coalition to Stop War told the demonstrators. "We will not be casualties in the Middle East. We will not die for oil."
When another speaker asked for peace "in the name of people of color," an Anglo male demonstrator called out, "How about peace in the name of white guys?"
The crowd reflected a broad demographic slice of Los Angeles.
Jackie Telis, 17, and four girlfriends from Alhambra High School car-pooled to the demonstration. "I didn't think there'd be so many older people. I thought there'd be more young people because they're the ones that will be going," she said.
Real estate broker Eugene Rudolph, a 58-year-old Korean War veteran and member of the Hollywood Rotary Club, said he came because "it's very important we have no more Koreas, no more Vietnams." Rudolph, who is black, said he also detected "a trace of racist policy" in what he perceived as a willingness in the Bush Administration "to drop bombs on people of color."
Roberta Pernelli marched with a photo of her 21-year-old son, Chris, a Marine stationed in Saudi Arabia. "I don't know what he's doing over there. I don't know what any of them are doing over there," she said.
Times staff writers Jesse Katz in Los Angeles and Helaine Olen in Washington contributed to this story.