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Boston Father of Fallen Marine Leads Protest
The father of a Boston Marine killed in Iraq led thousands of antiwar protesters in a boisterous but largely peaceful demonstration outside the Republican National Convention, while riot police and National Guardsmen clashed separately with a collection of small fringe groups that smashed windows and damaged public property.
Police using pepper spray arrested a total of at least 56 people.
In one dust-up, police fired what appeared to be tear gas canisters to disperse a dozen members of the so-called RNC Welcoming Committee, a self-described anarchist group that has vowed to shut down this week's events and was targeted in police searches over the weekend that resulted in six arrests.
Elsewhere, members of another group called Funk the War smashed the windows of storefronts and cars trying to enter the tight security perimeter.
But the scene outside the convention on the opening day was largely a cacophony of peaceful voices - many of them supporters of Democrat Barack Obama - calling for an end to the war in Iraq and linking Republican presidential candidate John McCain with the policies of the Bush administration.
Leading the throng of up to 10,000 marchers was Carlos Arredondo of Boston. He pushed a flag-draped coffin bearing the uniform, dog tags, and Purple Heart of his 20-year-old son Alexander, a Marine lance corporal who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
"All these people know what this is about: ending this war," Arredondo, who drove from Boston with his wife, Melida, said as he motioned to the sea of people marching from the Minnesota State Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center.
Arredondo grabbed national headlines when he clambered inside the van of the Marines who came to inform him of his son's death and then set the vehicle on fire. He suffered severe burns. Since then, he has become a high-profile member of Military Families Speak Out, a nonpartisan antiwar group, and has traveled to at least 25 states.
Yesterday's march was organized by The Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, a collection of antiwar groups.
Along with the Arredondos, dozens of Iraq veterans marched at the front of the crowd, including about 10 from the Boston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who tried unsuccessfully to meet earlier in the day with representatives of the McCain campaign to air their concerns.
Michael Spinnato, 24, of Mission Hill, is a student at the University of Massachusetts who was a machine gunner in Iraq and decided to miss the start of classes to participate. "I listened to what President Bush had to say," he said. "I believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, I believed the connections to Al Qaeda. I feel betrayed."
Liam Madden, 24, of Boston, who is co-chairman of the group's board of directors, said he hoped the rally would impel Americans to take greater action, saying he believes voting against McCain won't be enough. "We think it is about time that the people of this country realize that it is not just voting that will end this war," said Madden. "It's about people participating by turning off the TV. Obama is repackaging the same occupation, not ending it."
Yet while the main message yesterday was the need to end the US military involvement in Iraq, there was also a political one: that McCain will bring the same policies as President Bush.
Amid cheers and catcalls at a morning rally on the grounds of the State Capitol, a pair billed as Mr. Bush and Ms. McCain were married in a mock ceremony.
The crowd represented a broad cross-section, including veterans, students, teachers, nurses, mothers with their children, and senior citizens. Sister Eunice Antony, 72, of St. Joseph, Minn., a member of the Benedictine order, waved a placard saying "No to War" and "No to Torture."
"I believe the war is immoral," she said. "It bankrupts us financially and spiritually."
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.