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Protesters Gather in Clarendon

Weekly demonstration grows as Iraq conflict escalates.

For most parents, the call Simin Royanian received last week would have been a nightmare come true. But when her daughter called from a San Francisco jail, Royanian was proud, she said as she told the story to other Arlingtonians. “I said, ‘Right on!’” she explained.

Royanian met with some two dozen people this weekend to protest the war in Iraq. Having a daughter arrested in protests last week may have given her some bragging rights, but it didn’t lighten her spirits. “I’m too sad about the war to enjoy things,” she said.

Local activists calling themselves Northern Virginians for Peace have gathered in Arlington’s Central Park, above the Clarendon Metro, each of the last four Saturdays, carrying signs and distributing fliers. Larry Yates, organizer of the actions, said the protests started in Falls Church. But he and others quickly decided to change locations.

Positioned on a busy intersection between Wilson Boulevard and Clarendon Boulevard, the park made demonstrators visible to drivers and pedestrians, and to large numbers of Metro riders, who must enter and exit through the park.

The high visibility brought mixed results, Yates said. “We had people yelling obscenities at us, but that’s okay,” he said. Organizers came with 150 fliers and had distributed all of them by an hour into the demonstration.

Passersby could tell from the signs what the demonstration was about, so Yates viewed acceptance of a flier as a sign of at least partial support. “I think this is a pretty clear statement that this war is not broadly supported,” he said.

MAKING PROTESTS VISIBLE was a motivating factor for several of the demonstrators. Last week, as U.S.-led coalition forces advanced through southern Iraq and bombs fell on Baghdad, major media outlets reported that American support for the war effort topped 70 percent nationwide.

Marylou Leonard came to Saturday’s demonstration to send a message to residents who do oppose the war or are still undecided. “It’s nice to know there are people who agree with you,” she said, but more important is the power of a peaceful demonstration to make people think.

Allen Skean also stressed the importance of peaceful demonstrations. Following violent anti-American displays in countries like Pakistan last week, local protesters were careful not to be aggressive or block entrances to Metro or nearby businesses.

“I deliberately came to a peaceful, nonviolent protest,” said Skean, as he stood quietly holding the Northern Virginians for Peace banner.

Beneath his calm demeanor, Skean said he felt “absolute sheer outrage” and “unmitigated rage against this war.”

Others expressed more ideological opposition to the conflict. Leonard and Bill Mims, both Quakers, said their faith teaches that all wars are immoral. Royanian, born in Iran, has family and friends in the Middle East who already feel threatened by war. “The danger is that once [Bush administration officials] feel comfortable enough, they’re going to attack the next country,” she said.

DESPITE VEHEMENT OBJECTION to the war and toward the Bush administration, some protestors made a point of supporting U.S. troops.

“I’m so proud of the folks in the military who are willing to fight for us,” said Carol Stroebel, an Arlington resident since 1988. Stroebel’s father is a veteran, and her uncle lost his life in World War II.

Yates wasn’t worried that people would accuse protestors of turning their backs on American soldiers. “People understand the difference between supporting the troops and supporting this president,” he said.

Some demonstrators also stressed the difference between opposing war and supporting the Iraqi regime. I don’t think anybody here is here to support Saddam Hussein or his policies,” said Stroebel.

Riley Bostrom, an Arlington resident who demonstrated against the Vietnam War and now the current conflict, said the protest movement encourages policy makers to exhaust all diplomatic avenues before considering war against hostile regimes. “It’s a thing you don’t do unless there’s no other alternative,” he said.

AT OTHER PROTESTS in Arlington, police arrested three people on the Key Bridge. During protests on March 20, the first day of the war, protesters marched from Rosslyn into Washington, closing the Key Bridge briefly.

Arlington police worked with Metropolitan Police Department to escort between 100 and 150 protesters over the Key Bridge at about 8:30 a.m. Just before the march reached the bridge, police said several protesters threw a traffic barrel in front of a police car.

Police arrested Wade Fletcher, 25, of Woodbridge, Va.; Erica Wagner, 25, of Brookville, Md. and a juvenile female and charged them with obstruction of justice. During the arrests, police sprayed one of the three with pepper spray, which they said was prompted when the protester pushed a police officer.

Traffic on the bridge was stopped for about 30 minutes, and exit ramp on and off Lee Highway were closed for about an hour.