Protesters mark fifth anniversary

BAYVIEW — It was the American thing to do. That’s what protesters and counter protesters said as they lined Highway 525 in Bayview Saturday voicing their opinions about the war in Iraq.

Some had come to blast the ongoing war and call for peace. The counter protesters said they wanted to show solidarity with the troops.

Both groups, however, said they were there to exercise their right of free speech.

Five years ago today, U.S. forces invaded Iraq. What was supposed to be a quick war has dragged on for five years and has cost

3,990 service men and women their lives, according to the Department of Defense. Last year, six sailors from the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island were killed in the line of duty in Iraq as well.

“We came to this one with the kids so they can see how fortunate they are to gather safely in a group and share an opinion,” Cait Cassee said. “I want them to see that it counts.”

Callum Cassee, 5, and his siblings Miranda, 7, and Max, 9, were the youngest protesters and proudly waved their peace signs.

They were gratified that people noticed their efforts.

“When people were honking, it made me feel very important,” Miranda said.

“When people honked it made me feel good inside. We were doing something good against the war,” Max added.

Callum, the youngest, said he gladly came along with his family, because it was important to show people how he felt about the war.

“We were doing something important. We showed people peace,” he said.

On the other side of the road, a handful of counter protesters held signs reading “They gave their tomorrows for your todays” and “Freedom isn’t free.”

Members of the group declined to be interviewed.

“We’re here to show how we feel, not talk,” one man said.

Some of them stood on the street corner since 8 a.m. and stayed into the late afternoon. At one point during the day, Reece Rose, a candidate for Island County Commissioner, stood among them.

The protests at the intersection of Highway 525 and Bayview Road are older than the war.

Some of the protesters have stood there each Saturday for the past five and a half years.

One of them is Lorraine Smalley, 81.

“I feel it’s much more important now. I get more energized every time I come out,” she said.

The attitudes have changed - first there was a rush of energy to prevent the war, then despair. Now hope is spreading among the protesters with a new president less than a year away, Smalley said. But the goal is still the same. They want peace and U.S. forces to be brought home.

“I am hoping we’ll have a president who brings home the troop and ends this,” Smalley said. “Millions of dollars are blown into this - and the violence.”

“Don’t give up!” she added.

Linda Morris, who stood in silent vigil with the Women in Black, said 10 to 12 different peace groups had turned out for the protest.

“I’m just gratified by the number of people,” she said. “We’ve build up such a community.”

It’s important to keep Americans tuned in while U.S. forces and Iraqis are killed in a far away land, Morris said. The constant presence of the war has numbed some people to the horror.

“This war, this invasion, has to be kept on the front burner instead of people zoning out,” she said.

Even after more than five years of protests, the issue is still as emotional as ever for some of those who gathered this weekend.

“I walked with one of the Women in Black. She just turned to me with tears in her eyes saying, ‘When will this stop?’” Morris recalled.

While many call for a troop withdrawal, Vice President Dick Cheney visited Iraq this week to mark the five-year anniversary and warned against the danger large troop withdrawals could cause by jeopardizing security, according to national press reports.

One of the organizers of the protest, Tom Ewell, also is looking ahead to a Cheney-free era.

“After five years of remorse for the invasion and its consequences, and our discouragement at not having been able to stop the occupation, excitement about the presidential elections has given

us a new sense of possibilities for peace and overall change in American attitudes toward war, the peaceful prevention of war and foreign policy,” Ewell said.

After the peace activists stood at the side of the road for the morning protest, a large group met in the Front Room at the Bayview Cash Store to share their experiences and discuss ways to continue their work united.

Peace groups will gather again tonight from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Bayview Park-and-Ride. Anyone is invited to take part. The protesters will join thousands of other people across the world holding peace rallies or paying tribute to the fallen.

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