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Protesters express anger, sadness


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The Pitt News
Viewers walk through a mock graveyard, an exhibit at Sunday's protest.

By MARIA MASTERS
Staff Writer
September 13, 2005

Hundreds of people gathered on Flagstaff Hill Sunday to honor the victims of September 11, 2001, and to support a national campaign to bring the troops home from Iraq.

Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, said that she mourned with all those who lost their loved ones four years ago.

"Mourn for the dead, but fight like hell for the living," Lessin said.

Almost two weeks after Cindy Sheehan gained national attention for camping outside President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, three buses left the state en route to Washington, D.C., to try to convince more people to speak out against the war.

The buses are stopping at different cities, delivering veterans and people from military families to talk about how the war has affected their lives.

The bus that stopped in Pittsburgh Sunday set up an encampment called "Camp Neil," which honored former Penn Hills resident Neil Santoriello, a soldier who died while serving in Iraq.

The members of the "Bring Them Home Now" tour --- who are sponsored by Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Gold Star Families for Peace --- will arrive in Washington, D.C., for a rally that will be held Sept. 24 through Sept. 26.

Sunday's rally officially began mid-afternoon on Sunday, when one speaker invited the crowd to leave their spots in the shade, at the back of the hill, and gather directly under the sun in front of a large blue tent where the guest speakers would assemble.

"But we don't want to be authoritarian about it," she said.

Another speaker opened the assembly with a sarcastic thank-you poem to President Bush.

A group of women from New Orleans --- who called themselves the Raging Grannies --- threw Mardi Gras beads into the crowd. They said they were outraged that members of the National Guard were stationed in Iraq instead of saving lives in United States.

As Neil Santoriello's mother, Diane Davis Santoriello, took the stage, most of the crowd stood up and pressed closer for a better look.

Santoriello, who got her masters degree in education at Pitt, said in an interview after the rally that her son loved to fish, hunt and rock climb. He went to Dickinson College on an ROTC scholarship, not because he needed the money, but because he wanted to.

"When the war started, we stopped talking politics," Santoriello said.

Santoriello added that she believed her son felt unsupported by the military, but said that her son would never have criticized his employer.

"He just focused on taking care of his men," she said.

Santoriello said during her speech that when she hugged her son goodbye on Aug. 5, 2003, she considered the war unjust, but felt that Americans owed something to the Iraqi people.

When her son died on Aug. 13, 2004, she felt outraged. She said that the administration lied, didn't have a proper exit strategy and failed to properly equip the troops.

When Sheehan stood up to speak, some of the crowd took pictures of her on their cameras and cell phones.

Sheehan said that when Bush spoke about 14 marines that died last month, he said they died for a noble cause.

"I don't believe guarding the terrorists from oil fields is a noble cause," Sheehan said. "I don't believe lining the pockets of your cronies is a noble cause."

"George Bush could not talk to me because there is no noble cause," continued Sheehan, who also said that the president's refusal to speak with her motivated many people to organize and take a stand against the war.

Sheehan talked about how she sat in a ditch from April 6 until Aug. 31, while dealing with heat stroke and scorpions. She said, however, that the people in Crawford still walked around smiling at each other.

She said that she realized that the people had the power and became "the checks and balances on this out-of-control government."

After Sheehan finished her speech, the Raging Grannies sang songs and the crowd --- which had grown considerably --- assembled in a line and carried candles and banners.

Sheehan, Santoriello and other members of the sponsoring groups led the procession to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.

When the organizers first arrived at Soldiers and Sailors, they were asked to move off the property and onto the streets.

The participants gathered on Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard, singing songs and chanting slogans.

At 8 p.m., the rally ended and the members of the tour headed back to the bus.

Santoriello said that although their tour would end up in Washington, D.C., that their campaign would not end until the troops come home.

She said that her life became hell after her son died, but she feels that her campaign is gradually gaining more support.

"It's giving a shout to what was once a whisper," Santoriello said.

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