The Star-Ledger

Marchers Rally Against Iraq War

Hundreds from throughout state gather in Newark to voice protest

The Star-Ledger — Sunday, August 26, 2007

BY ALEXI FRIEDMAN
Star-Ledger Staff

Instead of splashing around in a pool or playing in the park, 4-year-old twins David and Nathaniel Wagenblast spent their Saturday afternoon singing songs and carrying signs, calling for an end to the war in Iraq.

Richard Wagenblast brought his sons yesterday to their first anti-war rally in Newark, where they joined hundreds of protesters who gathered at Lincoln Park before walking a mile in the heat to Military Park and back again.

"I want them to know they have a voice," said Wagenblast, who traveled from Howell Township with his boys.

Organized by the Peace and Justice Coalition, the event was billed as "The People's March for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice." Organizers called for an immediate end to the war and the redirection of billions of dollars being spent on the war into domestic programs like jobs creation.

But it was also meant to highlight violence closer to home, including the recent killings of three college students in a playground behind a Newark elementary school.

"Violence is engulfing cities across the country," said Jeffrey Dye, executive director of the North Jersey Local Residents Work Force Organization, a job-placement group. "We want unity in our community and peace in our streets."

It's what brought out James Harvey, whose 20-year-old son, Dashon, was one of the three killed. Harvey stood off to the side in Lincoln Park as watched the speakers take turns at the podium. He wore a tired expression on his face, but said he wanted to show up.

"Anything to stop the war," Harvey said, "to stop the guns and the violence."

Iraq, however, took center stage, with most of the speeches and signs, bandannas and bumper stickers, pins and pamphlets devoted to the subject. A group called the American Friends Service Committee arranged boots representing every service member from New Jersey killed in the war, along with sneakers and shoes to symbolize Iraqi civilians who have died.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, touted his national health insurance bill, but received more support from the crowd when he spoke against the war.

Burlington County residents Joe Kuc, 66, and his wife, Patricia, 64, wished more young people had turned out for the day's event.

"Like they did for Vietnam in the'60s and'70s," Joe Kuc said. "They're more energetic than us old people. If there was a draft, they would all be involved."

There were scattered students, along with men and women in their 20s, some carrying cardboard signs with the peace symbol, others, like the teenagers from Bloomfield High School, holding up banners.

Anthony Shull, 24, came from New Brunswick with several friends. "It's important that we show a student presence," he said. "Younger people get a bad rap for being apathetic."

Dozens of organizations turned out, with representatives setting up tables and handing out fliers. The New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP was on hand, as was the National Organization for Women, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War and the Delaware Valley Veterans.

Barry Sussman, a Vietnam veteran who lives in West Orange, said the rallies can make a difference. Like Vietnam, he said, the war in Iraq "was started on false pretenses and no matter how we leave it, nothing will have been accomplished."

Planned months in advance, yesterday's event comes just days after President Bush told a group of war veterans in Missouri that the United States cannot withdraw from the conflict. Pulling troops out now, he said, would lead to the kind of lawlessness and upheaval that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam three decades ago.

But Newark resident James Kelly, whose stepson, Clarence Floyd, died in combat in Iraq, told the crowd there is no alternative.

"Get out of this war," he shouted to the audience, "so my son's memory will not have been in vain."

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