Friday, August 29, 2008

3,000 march in largest demonstration of DNC

3,000 march in largest demonstration of DNC

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Marching behind a police vehicle that flashed the words "Follow Us. Welcome to Denver." on an electronic sign, at least 3,000 Iraq war veterans and anti-war protesters made their way through downtown Denver on Wednesday during the largest demonstration of the Democratic National Convention to date.

Though the event, co-sponsored by the anti-war group Tent State University and Iraq Veterans Against the War, was unpermitted, the parade proceeded peacefully.

It began at the Denver Coliseum and ended at the Pepsi Center perimeter about three hours later. There, veterans attempted to contact aides of presidential candidate Barack Obama to deliver a statement urging Obama to endorse the idea of an immediate withdrawal of "all occupying forces" from Iraq among other positions.

The letter also upbraided the Democratic Party for their "initial and continued" support for the war.

After an hourlong standoff, during which tensions between veterans and police escalated, a meeting with an Obama aide was arranged, and the crowd dispersed.

The march began around 3:15 p.m. outside the coliseum after many of the participants had attended a free concert featuring the heavy metal/rap band Rage Against the Machine and three other acts.

Throughout the four-hour show, band members and emcee Jello Biafra, formerly of the Dead Kennedys, offered political commentary and urged audience members to join the demonstration.

They stressed that it would be a peaceful march.

Referring to conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who had been widely quoted as saying it would be his "dream" for Denver to break into riots during the convention, rapper Jonny 5 of the Flobots, a Denver band, told the crowd the worst thing they could do was make that dream come true.

While some feared the police would attempt to stop the unpermitted march, officers escorted the group through city streets, redirecting traffic and pedestrians.

The group of mostly young people walked behind a banner that said: "Support GI Resistance."

Protesters appeared to stretch across at least four city blocks.

Wearing T-shirts and stickers with slogans such as "Arrest Bush" and "Make Out Not War," they sang rolling chants, Marine style. "Tell Me What We're Marching For," sang some. "Stop the torture, stop the war," answered others.

People lined the streets to watch, mostly in approval.

As the parade made its way down Brighton Boulevard, Jonathan Paul, general manager of Builder's Outlet, stood outside his door-framing business. "We had no idea (what was happening) until police started showing up, and I went out and talked to them," he said. Paul said he thought the road had closed because of a passing dignitary.

Further down the route, Betsy Crane, a Denver mother, stood with her children, ages 9, 7 and 5. "They wanted to see what was going on," she said. "They're interested in seeing police officers, as well as protesters."

Not everyone was as respectful.

From the balcony of an apartment complex, a man yelled at the throngs of protesters to move on. "Don't come back here," he said.

But one protester had the last word: He suggested the man join the Army.

As the march wore on under a hot sun, some dropped out. Others found ways to take shortcuts. Two teens on the 16th Street Mall shuttle wearing Rage Against the Machine T-shirts admitted they had skipped part of the march and planned to join it as it neared the end.

One foot clad in a black shoe, the other barefoot, James Koller, 17, explained: "Someone clocked me in the face and took my shoe in the moshpit," he said. "This is a quicker route to the Pepsi Center."

Koller's friend, Joey Minicucci, 18, of Littleton, noted that his brother was in the military, getting ready to be sent to Iraq, one of the reasons he was going to the march.

Another woman in the throngs of protesters had her mind on civil liberties: "I'm marching because it seems to be the last vestiges of our free speech and because people have demands and our government's not listening," said Anne Hill, of Montrose.

Montrose and others came to a standstill at the perimeter of the Pepsi Center around 6:30 p.m., at which time they attempted to have the letter delivered to Obama. Once veterans had set up the meeting with a liaison for Obama, tensions defused.

"I figured as long as we kept things peaceful, they would hear us, and they did," said Jeffrey Wood, an Army veteran who served 18 months stateside.

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