While a few children played on the swings and slides at McLean’s Central Park on Wednesday evening, May 2, most of the visitors to the park were not there to enjoy the playground. They gathered to show disapproval of President George Bush’s veto of an Iraq War bill, which requested the beginning of a withdrawal of American troops by this summer.
"We are here saying the president is not listening, the Congress needs to listen," said Wes Callender. The Great Falls resident had a message for the members of Congress who represent some of the people gathered in McLean on Wednesday night. "Frank Wolf and Tom Davis need to stop empowering President Bush, and they need to empower the people who elected them," said Callender.
According to Callender, one of the main reasons for November’s political shift, when the Democrats took over both the Senate and the House of Representatives, was the country’s policy on Iraq. "We have had four years of a failed war," said Callender. "The President is not listening and he doesn’t want to be held accountable."
Wednesday’s demonstration was a part of the nationwide effort, organized by MoveOn.org, a political action committee. Those who attended the McLean rally were residents of Virginia’s 8th, 10th and 11th congressional districts, represented by Jim Moran (D), Frank Wolf (R) and Tom Davis (R) respectively. The protest was organized in less than 48 hours, according to John Frey, one of the leaders of the Vienna council of MoveOn.
Although an occasional disapproving shout and rude gesture occurred, those who drove down Old Dominion Drive and Dolley Madison Boulevard, route 123, on Wednesday evening showed support to the protesters. The response from the drivers at the busy intersection was overwhelmingly positive, according to Frey. He estimated that for every one rude gesture shown to the demonstrators, there were about 10 positive gestures, a honked horn or a thumb up.
PEOPLE FROM MANY PARTS of the region attended Wednesday’s protest, some of them demonstrating for the first time.
"This is the first time I’ve ever stood out and protested," said Reston resident Bill Krieger. "This is so outrageous," he said. "Bush is vetoing the will of the people," since both chambers in the Congress passed the bill. "Bush, he always swims upstream," said Krieger. He said he hoped more people like himself, who had not protested before, would start speaking out. "People who don’t normally speak out, they need to speak out," said Krieger.
Frey said people gathered to register their dissatisfaction with the current administration. However, he said, their message was not only intended for the Bush administration. "We need to reinforce the message to our congressmen," said Frey.
Jo Marsh, of McLean, decided to demonstrate because people are dying in Iraq. "It’s a very serious situation," said Marsh. "This administration doesn’t know what to do," she said. Barbara Adams, also of McLean, protested alongside Marsh. She said it was important for people to speak out. She, as one of those people, wanted to show her presence and disapproval of what is happening in Iraq. "I just want to get counted," said Adams.
Jack Calhoun never intended to attend the protest. He was dining at J. Gilbert’s restaurant, located on the same intersection where the demonstration took place. He noticed what the demonstration was about, and decided he could not ignore it by staying in the restaurant. He said the Iraq was an abomination, and it did not reflect America’s tradition and history. He said an Ethiopian-born taxi driver recently reminded him that the United States has two symbols, a bald eagle holding arrows and the Statue of Liberty. "We’ve forgotten the Statue of Liberty," said Calhoun.
A group of middle school students also attended Wednesday’s demonstration. Paul Cavanaugh, an 8th grader at Kilmer Middle School, held anti-war signs alongside Eric Chubb and David Hill, both 8th graders at Longfellow Middle School. "We don’t agree with what Bush is doing," said Cavanaugh.
STANDING OPPOSITE of the students, on the other side of Route 123, was David Henderson, an Alexandria resident and a Quaker from Langley Hill Mission Friends. He wore a red shirt that read ‘Make Love Not War.’ "I’ve done this since Vietnam," said Henderson. "For 35 years I’ve been telling people that war is wrong."
He said Americans were conned into the Iraq War. The soldiers in Iraq never found any weapons of mass destruction, and the rationale to stay in Iraq since we are already there does not satisfy Henderson. "Why prosecute a war that has no chance of winning," said Henderson. "We’re not helping the Iraqi people."
Calhoun said his demonstrating is not unpatriotic, and he considers himself a patriot. Henderson supported that notion. "We’re serving our country right now," he said. He added that the world is more dangerous today than it was five years ago, because of American actions in Iraq. "This is a much more unsafe world than it was five years ago, because of what’s being done in our name," said Henderson. "It’s not in my name, and not with my tax dollars," he said. Henderson added that half-a-trillion dollars have been spent on the war, yet the needs of the American people in the country are not met.