Antiwar Demonstration on Sunday in Tampa by Nancy Morgan

03/20/06

About 300 antiwar protesters came together on Sunday at the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in downtown Tampa to commemorate the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Nancy Morgan reports.

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The rally was one of many demonstrations held around the country and around the world this weekend to demand an end to the war. Organizer Jay Alexander of Veteran’s for Peace talked about what he hoped to accomplish and why he thought the rally would be effective.

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As demonstrators flowed into the square, a lone young man stood silent in front of the empty wheelchair and the mock-flag-draped coffin that had been set up to symbolize the dead and wounded. His outstretched arm held two flags, one American, the other Nazi. Tim O’Conner explained why he chose use the Nazi flag as a protest.

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But not all the demonstrators appreciated O’Conner’s display. Dressed in his military fatigues, retired Marine Corp. Major Raymond Simmons came to protest peacefully. He worried that O’Conner’s display would send the wrong message.

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O’Conner’s mother, Jenn Coolidge supports her son’s contention that our country is in trouble. As a former Russian interrogator at the Pentagon for the Army Security Agency for six years, she says that she is worried about what has happened to our country.

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Several groups who set up tables among the many surrounding the square represented religious communities. The Quakers shared a table with Pax Christi. Carolyn Ann Breyer of Pax Christi said that she was there to promote the idea that religion supports peace.

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For some, the answer to stopping the war is to change the political makeup of the government. Tom Squires of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee said that the way to affect change is for voters to get involved.

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As the afternoon wore on, speakers took the stage. Among them, the Rev. Charles McKenzie, local liaison to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push Coalition, delivered a passionate speech, emphasizing what he thinks America is guilty of in Iraq and elsewhere in the world.

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A call from antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan energized the crowd. She made a prediction.

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By far, the speaker who most affected the demonstrators was Norma Aviles, mother of 18-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Andy Aviles who was killed in Iraq on April 7, 2003.

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Mrs. Aviles, now a member of Gold Star Mothers for Peace, continued her story.

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By late afternoon, the crowd had thinned and most of the tables were gone. A singer who called himself Blue Gravy took the stage and sang his message as if no one had left.

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I’m Nancy Morgan for WMNF news.

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