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Thursday, May 24th New London — So anguished was Carlos Arredondo when three U.S. Marines delivered the news that his son had been killed fighting in Najaf, Iraq, that he took gasoline and a propane torch from his garage and lit himself on fire inside the Marines' government van.
Since that day, Aug. 24, 2004, Arredondo has recovered from his severe burns, become a U.S. citizen and created a mobile memorial to his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo.
He brought that memorial — and a personal plea for an end to the war in Iraq — to New London Wednesday as more than 1,000 demonstrators converged on the city for President Bush's visit to deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
“The war in Iraq has been mishandled, and we all pay the price for this. My son paid with his life,” said Arredondo, now of Boston. “It is my duty as an American citizen to share my feelings with or against the government and be there for the ones who cannot speak anymore.”
After speaking to a crowd of at least 250 at a rally at the Soldiers & Sailors Monument organized by the Southeastern Connecticut Peace & Justice Network and Connecticut Opposes the War, Arredondo drove a truck trailing a flag-draped coffin containing some of his son's personal belongings.
The crowd marched behind the truck to the entrance of the academy at Williams Street and Mohegan Avenue, where they joined hundreds more demonstrators — most protesting war or the president himself, some with pro-Bush and pro-troop messages — who stood for hours bearing signs, banners and flags and speaking in a cacophony of competing megaphones and microphones.
New London police officers estimated the crowd at more than 1,000.
The anti-Bush and anti-war demonstrators, affiliated with more than a dozen organizations, including the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, Connecticut Coalition for Peace, Move On, Connecticut Families for Peace, People of Faith CT and the Raging Grannies of Greater Westerly, gathered on one side of Mohegan Avenue. They faced a clearly outnumbered but equally energized crowd of Bush supporters from the groups Gathering of Eagles, Patriot Guard Riders and American Legion Riders across the street.
Those protesting the Bush visit included veterans and civilians, children and seasoned protesters, Connecticut residents, and people from Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island.
“There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism, and there is a difference between supporting the troops and supporting a war. It is patriotic to speak out against our country and its wars,” said Ted Goodnight of North Providence. “To promote peace is to benefit all. It is also the greatest honor to all the heroes that have given their lives to our country.”
Goodnight, a member of Veterans For Peace, is a former Army sergeant who chose not to re-enlist after serving for nine months in Afghanistan and two weeks in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. While in Afghanistan, he said he questioned why military resources were being diverted to Iraq, a country that did not attack the United States.
Russ Ostlund of Stonington, who served for 14 years as a chief petty officer in the Navy, protested the Bush administration silently by holding an American flag over his right shoulder, a flag with a peace sign over his left shoulder, and lifting a copy of the U.S. Constitution as he looked toward the Bush supporters across the street and, behind them, the path of the presidential motorcade.
Frances Crowe, 88, of Northampton, Mass., protested the Bush administration with the group Code Pink Women For Peace. She wore a pink shirt and a sign — almost as large as she was — around her neck that read, “Arrest and convict the serial killer in Washington.”
Trish Gallagher of Boston, a member of the same group, said she believes the money spent on the war and the military ought to be directed instead to “life-affirming programs.”
A sea of anti-Bush and anti-war signs ranged from hand-scrawled messages like “Support our troops, not our president” and “No blood for more oil” to mass-produced slogans calling for withdrawal from Iraq and impeachment of the president. Some protesters carried American flags turned upside-down or with peace signs instead of stars.
Douglas Wray of Yantic displayed a print of Pablo Picasso's “Guernica,” depicting the suffering and violence of war, around his neck. He said the print hung above his desk at the Naval Submarine Base for 31 years before he retired from his job as an engineer. He said he attended the protest alone, unaffiliated with a group, adding, “I'm just against war.”
Mark Lipman, Tom Page, Susan Bueti and Walter Ducharm, of the group Bostonians for the Overthrow of King George, donned oversized papier-mâché heads of Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney, respectively, and wore jail stripes and chains.
While most protesters Wednesday were showing their dissent over the Iraq war, a small but vocal group of scientists were protesting what they believe would be a greater, disastrous legacy of the Bush administration: its disregard for the environment.
“Every one of us think the Iraq war is wrong,” said Marc Zimmer, a professor at Connecticut College who teaches environmental chemistry. “Our focus is on the science. In 20 or 30 years, when people look back, the biggest mistake of this administration will be that it did not pay enough attention to the environment.”
Zimmer helped organize the march of professors, students and dissenters who met at 9:30 a.m. in front of the F.W. Olin Science Center at Connecticut College. About 75 protesters donned academic robes or wore black, and some carried signs with messages such as “Bush + Exxon = Pseudo Science.”
As the group walked down Williams Street, it was met with jeers from pro-Bush counter-protesters. One man shouted, “Don't forget we fought for you so that you can do this.” Another man screamed, “Hippies!”
Bridget Baird, a professor of math and computer sciences at Connecticut College, said the Bush administration put unqualified people in positions of power. These people, Baird said, twist facts, especially scientific facts.
“The long-term impact is that this affects our credibility in the scientific world,” Baird said. “They ignore the science when it doesn't suit their positions. They discount global warming, stem-cell research and evolution. They ignore the recommendations of scientists.”
Harry Frank, a chemistry professor at the University of Connecticut, said he felt compelled to join the march.
“I'm here because this administration has failed the American public in all of its science policies,” Frank said. “When it comes to global warming, the administration has taken a worry-about-it-tomorrow attitude. We are losing our competitive edge. We are not training the next generation of scientists.”
Ann Burke, a professor of biology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, said she is dismayed at how the Bush administration continues to ignore the recommendations and findings of highly respected scientists.
“This administration has ignored the environment and health of our planet,” she said.
Demonstrations proceeded largely without incident. State police from Troop E responded in the afternoon to a minor scuffle on Williams Street but charged no one, and New London police, a visible presence all day along Williams Street and Mohegan Avenue, reported no protest-related arrests.
New London — Dozens of groups from around New England, joining an event planned by two national peace organizations, are setting up a big day of demonstration to coincide with Wednesday's Coast Guard Academy graduation visit by President Bush.
The groups won't venture any crowd-size estimates, but they are making bus, van and carpool arrangements all around the Northeast.
It will start with a march from downtown to a loud rally at the academy gates that is expected to include sign waving, amplified peace music and speeches by parents who have lost children in the war.
They will be joined not only by demonstrators from impeachbush.org but by marching scientists from an assortment of colleges in Connecticut, who plan to don their academic robes and carry signs protesting the Bush Administration's science policies.
The peace groups, organized by sponsors Veterans for Peace and Act Now to Stop War & End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.), will themselves be protested by demonstrators from a new national pro-war group, Gathering of Eagles, which has put out a call on its Web site for people to turn out Wednesday “to counter the left-wing Communist A.N.S.W.E.R. event being held the same day.”
Protesters from the two sides clashed a bit during a peace rally in Washington in March that attracted tens of thousands of people, although both groups say they don't want any trouble in New London.
“At previous events these so-called peace organizations have historically been violent,” said James Bancroft of Bristol, a Marine veteran and the Connecticut coordinator for Gathering of Eagles. “If there is going to be any confrontation, we expect them to start it.”
Bancroft said the group, which has dozens of inquiries on its Web site about travel arrangements to New London, expects as many as a thousand people on each side to come Wednesday.
“They have a right to be there, but we are not going to engage them,” said John Bangert, a spokesman for Veterans for Peace. “What would Martin Luther King do? He would listen.”
New London Police Capt. William Dittman said protests sometimes never materialize in the numbers that organizations predict, but he said the department will be prepared. He said New London is working with Connecticut State Police on security for the presidential visit and the demonstrations.
“I would venture to say, yeah, there will be a lot of people here,” he said. “We don't expect any problems, and if there are any we'll be ready.”
Tahnee Stair of New Haven, an A.N.S.W.E.R. spokeswoman, said planning for the New London demonstration began months ago. In addition to the demonstration Wednesday there will a series of related events in the city, starting with a forum, slide show and discussion tonight at the Hygienic Art Galleries, which begins at 7 p.m.
On Sunday, the national group Iraq Veterans Against the War will host a public forum, starting at 1 p.m. at The Oasis on Bank Street. It will feature a panel discussion with U.S. Marine and Navy veterans and the co-founders of Appeal for Redress, which is collecting signatures of active-duty military who support a troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Veterans for Peace will have a regional peace planning meeting for its members Tuesday in New London, and the region's national president, Elliott Adams, a descendant of the two presidents, will be in town conducting nonviolence training.
Starting Tuesday evening, the group will conduct an all-night peace vigil at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument downtown. It will be held in honor of Cal Robertson, who has conducted his own vigil there for more than 20 years. Robertson hurt his knee in a fall recently but is expected to attend, Bangert said.
“Cal has been a constant Gandhian presence in the New London community, and we want to honor his tradition,” he said. “We also want to take the opportunity to stand up against George W. Bush.”
Also attending the group's demonstration will be Carlos Arredondo, who lost his son in the war and who has become known around the country for the memorial he sets up at peace rallies, with a flag-draped coffin in the back of his pickup truck.
The Raging Grannies, grandmothers against the war, and Code Pink, women war protesters known for their pink feather boas, will also be here, Bangert said. Bangert said he has been involved in the peace movement since 1971, when he protested with John Kerry, who served in Vietnam with Bangert's twin brother Joe.
Wednesday's protest by scientists was organized by Marc Zimmer, professor of chemistry at Connecticut College. He said the group will include about 100 scientists, many faculty from schools all over the state, who will march from the college's science building to a lawn at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, across Route 32 from the academy.
“I got more and more concerned about the way the sciences are being misrepresented,” Zimmer said in describing his idea for the protest, mentioning the debates over stem-cell research, global warming and evolution. “Science used to be science, and you were fairly sure what it meant.”
Stair of A.N.S.W.E.R. said the demonstration Wednesday is part of a stepped-up campaign, Turn Up the Heat, meant to put pressure on the Bush Administration. They plan to protest at the West Point commencement where Vice President Cheney will be speaking.
“This is part of a nationwide effort to have demonstrations wherever government officials go, to demand that the U.S. get out of Iraq now,” she said. “It is similar to what happened to the Nixon Administration, when people knew wherever they went there would be an anti-war demonstration.”
Bancroft of the Gathering of Eagles said his group will be at West Point, too.
“These are two of the finest military academies on the planet. We want to be there to welcome the families and encourage the graduates,” he said. “It doesn't matter what you think about the president. Their coming is an act of disrespect toward the people they claim to support.
“They never marched against Osama or the Taliban. The only people they march against are in the United States or Israel. It makes you wonder what their agenda is.”