Sunday, March 21, 2004

Protesters criticize war in Iraq

Group holds rally on Fountain Square

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

They came in baby strollers and wheelchairs. They carried signs and wore unflattering papier mache masks of President Bush. They chanted, sang, danced and spoke out against the war in Iraq on Saturday, the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.

Just as they did around the globe, hundreds of anti-war protesters gathered in Cincinnati. After a rally on Fountain Square, the protesters took to the streets, marching past the federal courthouse, around the block, and back to the square. Police estimated the crowd at 250; protest organizers said it was closer to 750.

Sister Alice Gerdeman, coordinator of the event and a member of the Sisters of Divine Providence, asked the crowd to remember in silence the Iraqi civilians killed in the war along with the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives.

"We offer support to our military. We do not offer support to our military policy that put them (in Iraq)," Gerdeman said. "There is a difference."

Zeinab Schwen, a 49-year-old Symmes Township resident, said she is tired of people questioning her love of country because of her religious and political beliefs.

"I am a Muslim and I am tired of people questioning my patriotism because I am against the war," Schwen said. "I am tired of people looking at me suspiciously because of my religion. Islam is a religion of peace, and it was hijacked by a handful of radicals on 9-11."

The banners held up ranged from ominous ("No blood for oil") to quizzical ("Who profits from war?") to defiant ("This is my Patriot Act").

Bill Westerman, 55, of Brookville, Ind., said he came because of the way the Bush administration attacks people who disagree with its policies.

"This administration is particularly adept at characterizing opponents as unpatriotic," Westerman said. "It's time we fought back."

There was a handful of people in the crowd holding signs supporting the president and the war. Ryan Ruck, a 21-year-old Roselawn man, said he believes the invasion was about winning freedom for the Iraqi people.

Paul Wilhelm, 29 of Covington, agreed, but said he doesn't understand all the fuss.

"I'm not sure why people are so upset," Wilhelm said. "We've liberated Iraq and made it a better place."



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