Activists rally by the thousands to pre-empt military attack on Iraq

Judging from the massive participation in Sunday's peace march, Portland police say they're bracing for even larger crowds in coming months.

'There's no question,' Police Chief Mark Kroeker said Monday. 'Across the nation and in all major cities, people are experiencing a desire to speak.'

Marches will be 'more and more frequent and more and more attended,' he said. 'Here in Portland, we're going to have that happen as we come to the brink of war.'

Will Seaman of the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition said an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people joined in Sunday's largely peaceful rally at Pioneer Courthouse Square and march through downtown.

If the crowds 'get march larger, they'll have to go to Waterfront Park' to stage their rally, said Central Precinct Cmdr. Rosie Sizer, who walked along the route. Dozens of officers patrolled by foot, motorcycle and bicycle.

The demonstrators chanted slogans, wore buttons and waved signs with phrases such as 'Smash imperialism' and 'War sucks when you're poor.' One man was arrested for allegedly jumping on a police car and spitting on officers.

Police say the event went smoothly because the organizers obtained a permit for the event, disclosed their route and talked with police officials about their plans.

Kroeker encouraged event organizers to do the same in the future so police can continue to accommodate the events.

His main concern now, he said, is that police coverage of future demonstrations will dip into the police bureau's already slim resources.

'We'll have to cancel days off, use more overtime,' he said. 'But we have to accommodate people's freedom of expression.'

To the activists, the turnout at Sunday's event was inspiring.

'It's absolutely possible for us to stop this war,' Kathleen

Juergens, a local peace activist, said Sunday. 'We've got the time, and we've got the numbers on our side. The tide of public opinion is really turning against this war.'

Tom Hastings, an adjunct professor of conflict resolution at Portland State University, said he believes that Portland is becoming a mecca for the antiwar movement, having staged the nation's second-largest protest Ñ with more than 5,000 people Ñ during the International Day of Action last month.

'Pound for pound, Portland is the most active community in the U.S.,' he said. Hastings also is a member of the Oregon Peace Institute.

But other observers question the effectiveness of such protests, saying that Portlanders don't reflect the opinion of most Americans.

'They would be opposed to war even if the United Nations finds a chemical weapons lab with weapons ready to be deployed against the Kurds, Iran, Israel or anyone,' said David Horowitz, a PSU history professor. 'They do not feel that the military is justified under any circumstances, but most Americans don't believe that.'

Indeed, while a national poll recently showed that 53 percent of Americans support war with Iraq, Portland's numbers differ.

A Tribune poll conducted at the end of October showed that 46 percent of Oregon voters now oppose military action against Iraq, compared with 44 percent who support it and 10 percent who are not sure.

That was a dramatic flip from a poll conducted at the beginning of October that showed 48 percent in support and 41 percent in opposition.

Peace supporters include nearly 50 groups, such as Jews for Global Justice, Portland National Organization for Women and Palestine Action Group.

'I think a lot of people in Portland are not afraid to get a little bit out front of 'mainstream' public opinion and think for ourselves,' Juergens said. 'Portland is being looked to as a leader in progressive activism right now.'

A history of protest

Tom Markgraf, senior adviser to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., agrees that Portland is keeping its national reputation as the city with many protesters.

In 1991, about 12,000 people took to the streets of Portland to protest the Persian Gulf War. It was the largest in the country. The same year, the first Bush White House dubbed Portland 'Little Beirut' for its climate of political demonstrations.

Earlier this year, protests against President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney received national attention when a few protesters clashed with police.

Sunday's event also grabbed headlines.

'It was on NPR when I woke up this morning,' Markgraf said Monday. 'People all across the country learned that Portland had a protest over the weekend.'

Markgraf said he believes that Portland's and other cities' demonstrations have helped push the Bush administration to seek the support of the United Nations and send weapons inspectors to Iraq before going to war.

Marchers on Sunday certainly believed that their actions were making an impact.

'If it reaches a couple people, it's all worth it,' said 15-year-old Dylan Brady of Beaverton.

Others say their actions are symbolic. 'I came to show my beliefs,' said Brady's friend,

16-year-old Michael Rawson. 'I don't believe in war.'

Several hundred people took another symbolic action by signing 'peace treaties' that will be sent to humanitarian organizations in countries targeted by the U.S. military, including Iraq and Colombia.

'There's absolutely no substitute for being able to look and see that tens of thousands of people are against this war,' Juergens said. 'Our national leaders can't ignore that, the local leaders can't ignore that, the media can't ignore that. A march of tens of thousands of people pretty much doesn't get ignored.'

Jim Redden contributed to this report.

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