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Many voices, 1 message: Avoid war

Scott Stephens
Plain Dealer Reporter

Hundreds of protesters braved biting cold and steady drizzle yesterday to call on the United States to avoid war with Iraq.

By 1 p.m., nearly 1,000 people flooded Public Square for the rally, which featured nearly three hours of speeches, songs and chants.

Their message: President Bush should use weapons inspections and diplomacy - not guns and bombs - to deal with Saddam Hussein.

"When a nation decides to go to war, they have made a moral decision, not a military decision," said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former head of the National Council of Churches and the 71-year-old mother of Mayor Jane Campbell.

"War is always a failure of the human spirit. Violence always begets further violence."

Gazing out at the huddled sea of protesters, activist Charles Murray, associate director of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese's Commission on Catholic Community Action, said many attendees had probably felt isolated and out of step in their opposition to a war with Iraq.

"Take a look at yourselves today," he told the cheering crowd.

Yesterday's rally came eight days after the U.N. Security Council voted to give Iraq until Dec. 8 to make a full accounting of any programs it has to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The Bush administration has said it will consider it grounds to go to war if it finds Iraq has lied.

Critics of the administration's policy said the focus on Iraq has more to do with oil than it does with U.S. security or the welfare of the Iraqi people.

"Our present military plans are not an act of defense for America or any other nation," said Greg Coleridge of the Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition. "They are instead a design for an aggressive war by the U.S., essentially for political power in the Middle East and control of Iraq's 112 billion-barrel oil reserve."

Some warned that an invasion of Iraq could galvanize the moderate Arab world against the United States. "We do not want to open a recruitment office for crazy people like Osama bin Laden," said Fareed Siddiq, a Pakistani-American Muslim.

The rally began in the late morning in front of the West Side Market. As Saturday morning shoppers looked over cuts of meats and squeezed melons, hundreds of marchers paraded north on West 25th Street and then poured east across the Detroit-Superior (Veterans Memorial) Bridge. Police escorted the throng, which made the chilly trek without incident.

Protesters included graybeard veterans of the anti-war movement of the 1960s as well as fresh-faced high school and college students.

It was a mix that pleased Ray Gonzalez of Cleveland Heights, a veteran peace activist who brought his two young sons, Noah, 4, and Lucas, 7.

"We want to see this passed along to the next generation," he said.

2002 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

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