Hundreds of protesters from across the region defied snow and steadily dropping temperatures in downtown Baltimore yesterday to march, sing and speak out against what they say could be "a devastating and disastrous war" against Iraq.
At least 250 people filled the rectory at St. Vincent DePaul Church on Front Street yesterday afternoon, and organizers say twice that many or more had earlier marched from Camden Station to City Hall.
"Look around," said the Rev. Richard Lawrence, pastor of the church. "This is the largest peace group you've seen in Baltimore since the end of the Vietnam War."
A coalition including the American Friends Service Committee and the Baltimore Peace Action Network organized the event, which coincided with demonstrations worldwide.
Leaders of the Baltimore march said momentum is growing - not just in Baltimore, but throughout the nation and the world - to fight nonviolently against the threat of war with Iraq.
For example, in what is believed to be their first coordinated anti-war statement, 53 leaders of Benedictine monasteries, along with more than 1,700 monks, brothers and sisters - including the Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore - joined this month to send President Bush their written opposition to a war with Iraq.
"Some of us oppose all war as immoral," the statement read, "but all of us oppose this war as immoral."
"We're doing this to show solidarity with the people around the world," said Max Obuszewski, a spokesman for the American Friends Service Committee, the national Quaker organization opposed to war, and one of the organizers of yesterday's event.
"If Bush was truly interested in peace, he would continue the weapons inspections," Obuszewski said.
Many speakers called on the memory of longtime anti-war leader Philip Berrigan, who died of cancer in December.
Some strummed guitars and recited poetry.
But other protesters were more biting: "Unelected President. Unjustified War. Unmitigated Arrogance," one poster read. Another asked, "Nation Building - On How Many Bodies, Bush?"
One poet chided the media for encouraging, through extensive airtime, what she views as a pro-war agenda.
"The terrorists are in Washington, D.C.," read Ann Bracken, of Columbia, "wearing suits, flag pins and smiling on TV."
Mount Washington resident and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch called on schools, companies and churches to post banners declaring "War is not the answer."
"This war will not make us safer," Branch said. "It will not make us freer. Who's less afraid of terrorism since we've been talking about war? We have a better way."
For her 7-year-old daughter's sake, Phoenix resident Susan Hughes said she hopes the nation's leaders will find a nonviolent way out of this conflict.
"I don't think she understands what war is," said Hughes, looking at doe-eyed and bundled-up Anna. "And I don't want her to."