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Raging against war
Protesters gathered in Orlando on Saturday to march and speak against the Iraq war and the Bush administration.
Susan Jacobson, OrlandoSentinel.com

Two thousand anti-war protesters brought their message to Lake Eola Park on Saturday with speeches, signs and fervor redolent of rallies of the Vietnam era.

The crowd cheered and applauded as more than a dozen speakers condemned President Bush and the Iraq war, often using profanity.

A few blocks away at Heritage Square, about 100 people showed their support of the government with a rally that featured patriotic music and speakers, including the father of a soldier killed in Iraq. Several called the anti-war protesters "misguided" or "anti-American."

"The future of America rests on us supporting the troops and the military," said Deborah King-Lile, Florida coordinator of Gathering of Eagles, which supports service members and veterans.

At Lake Eola, however, the mood was decidedly anti-establishment. One of the more fiery speakers, the Rev. Bruce Wright of St. Pete for Peace and an activist for the homeless, called Bush "the head fascist" and said the Christian right "needs to be kicked out of this country."

"The system is bankrupt," Wright told the crowd. "It's controlled by robbers and thieves. Voting is not the answer. It's the people rising up and not putting up with the injustice out there."

The rally was one of 11 Saturday in cities from Los Angeles to Boston and was organized by United for Peace & Justice, a New York City-based anti-war group. Participants, however, used the occasion to denounce a variety of societal ills and rail against conservative causes.

Signs read, "Impeach Bush," "Investigate 9-11," "Osama bin forgotten" and "How many lives per gallon?" Some compared Bush to Hitler. A couple of veterans took the stage to urge other veterans and members of the military to oppose the war.

Lucas Benitez, co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, was one of several people who decried corporate greed, venal politicians and U.S. military policy in Central America and elsewhere.

"The campaign against the war isn't just against the war," said Benitez, whose group fights to improve conditions for farmworkers.

"It's against the government and all its bad policies."

The protest drew a variety of people, from mothers pushing babies in strollers to Peg McIntire of St. Augustine, an anti-war activist for most of her 97 years. She urged the crowd to "transform our feelings into action."

"We the people must reclaim our civil rights," said McIntire, who wore a "Grandmothers for Peace" T-shirt.

As the speeches went on for nearly two hours, people browsed through literature at tables that bordered the protest area at the northeast corner of the park. Among the groups represented were: CODEPINK, which describes itself as "a women-initiated grass-roots peace and social-justice movement"; Veterans for Peace; the Young Communist League, USA; Save Darfur; Jobs with Justice; Food Not Bombs and Orlando Progressive Alliance.

Items for sale included T-shirts bearing a picture of revolutionary Che Guevara, anti-Bush buttons, books espousing socialist and Marxist theory and anti-war bumper stickers.

As it began to drizzle, then pour, the group marched onto Robinson Street and down Orange Avenue. The route, which was supposed to include the Parramore neighborhood west of downtown, was cut short because of the weather and time constraints, said Sgt. Barbara Jones, an Orlando police spokeswoman.

The rally was peaceful with no reported confrontations or arrests.

Susan Jacobson can be reached at sjacobson@orlandosentinel.com or 386-851-7903.

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