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Weather not a barrier to dozens of protesters
By BOB GROVES and ELIZABETH LLORENTE, New Jersey Record

Wind and rain did not stop a small group of North Jersey peace marchers from parading across the George Washington Bridge on Saturday to protest the Iraq war.

"What do we want?" Paula Rogovin and Mauro Camporeale shouted into the thick mist, high above the Hudson River.

"Troops out!" replied the band of 65 marchers behind them on the bridge's pedestrian walkway.

"When do we want it?" the two leaders cried.

"Now!"

The foul conditions probably kept some members of the Bergen Peace & Justice Coalition from attending, said Rogovin, 58, of Teaneck. But the fog of anti-war did not discourage those who crossed the bridge to join other protesters in Washington Heights.

"We're not disappointed at all," said Rogovin, whose 25-year-old son Eric recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Rogovin belongs to Military Families Speak Out/Bergen County, which is part of the Bergen coalition.

From Washington Heights, the marchers headed downtown to larger rallies at Union Square and Foley Square. The "regional mobilization" of protesters in Manhattan, sponsored by the national group United for Peace & Justice, called on Congress to stop funding the war and to bring the troops home.

The North Jersey group assembled on Hudson Terrace in Fort Lee, under the bridge ramp. They held a variety of signs proclaiming, "No more blood for oil," "How many will die for Bush's lies?" "Tell Congress no more $ for war!" "Funding the war is killing our troops."

"I'm not against war," said Bob Drozd, 58, of West Milford, who was marching with his wife, Joann, 52. "I believe World War II was a good thing.

"But this is the wrong war at the wrong time."

The Drozds' 23-year-old son, whose name they declined to give, served as an Army infantryman in Afghanistan, they said. He is currently in Italy recovering from hearing loss caused by an improvised explosive device, they said.

"Afghanistan is not a good place," said Bob Drozd, a quality-control manager with a private defense contractor. "If we had sent in 100,000 troops, we would have been out of there in a year. The United States, however, was right to send troops to Afghanistan, but not to Iraq, he said.

Across the street, six members of the pro-war Gathering of Eagles taunted the peace marchers with a sign that read, "90 percent of you don't even know why you're here."

"They're communists," Carolyn Van Zorge, 56, of North Bergen, said of the anti-war marchers. "They don't speak for us or our military or America. "It's very demoralizing. They're undermining our troops."

"It's not much of a gathering," Mauro Camporeale, head of the Bergen coalition, said of the six Eagles.

"It's their right to counter-demonstrate," said Camporeale, 29, a labor organizer from Saddle Brook. "They call all of us communists, but we're a wide variety of political groups."

As they crossed the bridge, the marchers were greeted by honks of car horns and gestures from drivers, some friendly, some not-so. The oldest marcher may have been Ed Pica, 83, of Teaneck, who wore a World War II veteran baseball cap and fought to keep his umbrella under control. Pica said he had been an engineer for the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb that ended the Big War, but he was marching against the current conflicts.

Sarah Dalton, 9, of West Milford may have been the youngest.

"I'm marching to end the war," said Sarah, who wore a pink raincoat and carried a small American flag. "Why? Because it's not good to kill people."

Her father, Tim, said he is primarily against the war to prevent its escalation into Iran.

"We need to roll back the neo-con [neo-conservative] agenda; that's the real enemy," said Tim Dalton, 59, who works as a management consultant and wore a "Impeach Cheney" cap to the event.

By noon, the New Jersey protesters had been joined by hundreds of others heading toward Union Square.

"I could have been working today, selling real estate," said Jonathan Mernit of White Plains, N.Y. "But, even though it's raining, it's important to come out.

Tim Lauby, of Southampton, Burlington County, exchanged complaints about the war with other marchers. But Lauby said the war isn't the only thing wrong in America.

"There are so many problems these days," Lauby said. "A real peace movement has to address more than Iraq. It has to address poverty, health, civil rights."

Several speakers addressed the protesters as they assembled near 23rd Street.

Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer complained that the military was "illegally recruiting young men and women" at schools.

"Our children should not be victims of a testosterone struggle between Bush and his cronies," Stringer said to cheers.

Hundreds of wet, ruined placards lay strewn along the march route down Broadway, with protesters walking over or around them, while trying to avoid the many puddles.

Joseph Massey of Brooklyn tried balancing an umbrella, fliers and a poster.

"The country is being destroyed internally by the Bush-Cheney regime," he said. "We're concerned about our constitutional liberties, our economy, our environment, our standing in the world community. Bush and Cheney want to keep us in a war economy."

Susana Tavel of Manhattan said she was equally disappointed with the Democrats, who she said have not sufficiently opposed the war in Iraq.

"Hillary Clinton and the rest of them are all opportunists," she said. "They all depend on money from corporations. They're not speaking up the way they should."

E-mail: groves@northjersey.com

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