War threat ignites ralliers on all sides
'We are prepared' for illegal responses to U.S. action, spokesman says
Portland police are prepared to deal with illegal protests Ñ including attempts to block city streets Ñ if war starts with Iraq, according to a bureau spokesman.
'If history is any guide, there will be daily activities that we will have to respond to,' Sgt. Brian Schmautz said.
Local activists plan a peaceful rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza, behind City Hall, at 4 p.m. the day war starts. But a group known as the Portland Day of Bombing Direct Action Project is calling for protesters to spread out from the rally and block key downtown intersections beginning at 5 p.m.
'They are encouraging people to engage in illegal activities,' Schmautz said. 'If people want to protest legally, we will give them a venue. If they protest illegally, we are prepared for that.'
The developments follow a weekend outpouring of emotions on all sides of the war issue.
Saturday began with a morning peace conference at Holy Redeemer Church in North Portland. The standing-room-only crowd applauded when Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., spoke against the war.
'We must rise up and say enough is enough, and stop this madness,' said Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement who worked closely with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the early 1960s.
Lewis spoke again a few hours later at the antiwar rally that the Associated Press estimated 25,000 people attended at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park. The Oregonian estimated the crowd to be 14,200; the police refused to make an estimate.
Signs read: 'All War Is Wrong,' 'The World Says No' and 'Vive la France.'
Jana Hofer, who attended the event with her husband, John, explained, 'Even if we're on the verge of war, any responsible person has to stand up and be counted.'
After Lewis urged people to express their opinions with their feet, the protesters began marching through downtown.
'A lot of people are just disgusted with the rush to war,' said Joleen Petersen, who attended the rally and march with her husband, Christian.
The only violence of the day happened shortly before the march left the park, when about 150 protesters rushed onto the Morrison Bridge above the speakers platform. They blocked traffic at the top of the bridge and began streaming down the offramp to Interstate 84.
Portland police in riot gear rushed to the scene and pushed them back with batons and pepper spray. One protester was arrested on riot charges.
On Sunday, about 200 people attended a Support the Troops rally in Pioneer Courthouse Square. The crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance and chanted 'USA, USA.' Speakers called on Americans to back the president and the soldiers who soon may be headed into harm's way.
'We want our troops to know there is support for them back home. And we don't want them to be treated like Vietnam vets when they come back home,' said organizer Gina Lutes, who plans to organize more pro-troop rallies in the coming weeks.
Tracy Acuna said she planned to e-mail digital photos of the rally to her husband, Anthony, an Oregon National Guard medic training for overseas deployment at Fort Carson, Colo.
'This is great for morale,' she said. 'It feels so good to know there's support for troops here.'