WASHINGTON - As the world's mightiest military machine prepared to unleash its fury on Iraq, Suzanne Fontanesi stood in front of the White House and prayed for all the world's soldiers.
"Protect all combatants throughout the world," she said. "Protect them with the shield of your strength and keep them safe from all evil and harm. May the power of your love enable them to them to return home in safety, that with all who love them, they may ever praise you for your loving care."
Yesterday, before the bombing in Iraq began, anti-war protesters took their battle to the halls of Congress and to Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. Many of the protesters belong to United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 200 groups who oppose the war in Iraq and the occupation that would likely follow.
Some of the protesters chanted "George Bush, whaddya say, how many kids did you kill today!" When they grew tired of that chant, they switched to "No blood for oil, U.S. get off Iraqi soil!" The protest began at noon and lasted until the late afternoon, when about 200 activists marched to the home of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Northwest Washington.
Fontanesi, a graduate nursing student at the Johns Hopkins University, was among a group of protesters who prayed and sang before they scaled a barricade and ran onto Pennsylvania Avenue. U.S. Park Police arrested 27 of them before they could get close to the White House. The protesters said they wanted to take photos of Iraqi civilians to Bush before he ordered the nation to be bombed.
"I came here today because I'm one of the millions of Americans who reject the idea that a unilateral invasion and military occupation of Iraq will bring about a more peaceful and just world," Fontanesi said before she was arrested.
About 9:30 a.m., the protesters held a news conference at St. Aloysius Church at 900 N. Capitol St. to discuss their plans to protest the war. The Rev. Grayland Hagler, the pastor of Washington's Plymouth Congregational Church of Christ, said the protesters did not support Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"What we're saying is that the United States has entered into a very slippery slope by using its power without regard for life, without regard for diplomacy; we feel that war could have been averted and this could have been settled in a very different way."
Hagler is a West Baltimore native and a member of Black Voices for Peace, a Washington group that is trying to mobilize the black community against the war.
"There's going to continue to be action, there's going to continue to be civil disobedience, there's going to continue to be lobbying because we cannot surrender to what we feel is immoral and unjust," he said.
Medea Benjamin, a San Francisco activist and member of the anti-war group Code Pink, dressed as an Arab woman. She held a doll baby that had been drenched in red paint simulating blood. Benjamin, whose clothes were also stained with paint, and her group members marched from the church to Capitol Hill where they visited the offices of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican.
Benjamin said the group told Pelosi's chief of staff that she has "blood on her hands."
"She [Pelosi] represents a district that is very anti-war," Benjamin said. "After Bush said the time for diplomacy was over, she issued a statement saying she supported the troops, and she never said she was not in favor of the war. She has betrayed us."
Benjamin said Code Pink members chanted "shame on you" when they visited DeLay's office. Asked if the chant evoked a response from DeLay's staff, she said, "Well, we did not get arrested."