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Protestors say war's effects go way beyond Iraq today

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Ken Schoepflin walked down Forbes Avenue with a line graph pinned to the back of his jacket. Schoepflin was one of nearly 2,000 anti-war protestors marching from Squirrel Hill to Oakland on March 19 to mark the second anniversary of the Iraq War. It was his first protest. But Schoepflin says he looks every day now at the graph of American war soldiers dead over time, kept by a Western Washington University professor on his Web site. Schoepflin, of the South Hills, decided to join the protestors finally out of "sheer disgust with the war footing, our people dying, their people dying," he says.

 

 

Even when, as Bush administration officials contend, the Iraqi elections make it all worthwhile? "I think they're hijacking any little sign that comes out of the process," he says. "It's great that [Iraqis] can vote. But it's not sovereignty. For us to offer it to them is an insult to sovereignty."

 

You know the war has lasted a long time when the dead can be graphed; when the punk bucket-and-trumpet brigade seems to have rehearsed actual songs for this march; and when the "Black Bloc" anarchist protestors figure out how to preclude any police approaches by marching within a plastic-covered enclosure.

 

It also showed in the large number of children brought out to join in the proceedings. Fahilia Basha's 2-year-old rolled down the small hill at Sixth Presbyterian Church at Forbes and Murray avenues in Squirrel Hill as protestors gathered for a pre-march rally "Kids need to know that the people on TV don't speak for the entire country," Basha said.

 

Andy Norman of Point Breeze carried his 5-year-old son, Kay. "It's important for him to learn that democracy is not a spectator sport," Norman said. "Obviously, you can't explain geopolitical intricacies to a 5-year-old, but he understands that it's wrong to kill people and we are teaching him to speak out."

 

Eleven-year-old Cat Medved of Port Vue had convinced her fifth-grade teacher at South Allegheny Elementary, Vicki Underwood, to march with her and mom Chris Medved. Underwood said she hadn't protested since Vietnam, but she was afraid this war too "is going to go on and on and on."

 

Even the kids who disagreed with the marchers were agreeable. "Thousands of people have died for you to protest!" screamed Molly Weiss, an eigth-grader at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill, standing on the steps of the Jewish Community Center as the marchers gathered in front of her. In a quieter voice she added: "I disagree with it but I think it's really important that we have protesters or we'll lose the right to protest."

 

Organizers lamented not simply the number of American (and Iraqi) dead and wounded but the cost in budget cuts to U.S. domestic programs. Pete Shell, head of the Anti-War Committee of the Garfield-based Thomas Merton Center, which planned the march, decried "$150 billion wasted and we don't know why. Meanwhile our city is going bankrupt." Participants sounded the same theme: Ordinary Americans opposed the war because the cost has spilled far beyond the Iraqi border.

 

"Right around the beginning of the war there were a lot of protestors and it kind of died down" since then, said Denny Christman, a junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, part of a 16-member Indiana Voices for Peace contingent. "It's nice to come to an event like this and show that it's a lot of people -- it's not just isolated groups," who are against the war. "It's almost impossible to think of a group of people the war doesn't somehow effect."

 

State Sen. Jim Ferlo led the one-hour trek, as he did last year, but unlike previously he didn't have to fend off any counter-protestors. A lone man with a large "Real liberals fight tyranny" sign paraded alongside the group for many blocks but kept a respectful distance.

 

Prior to the march, Ferlo was joined on stage by World War II Navy veteran Walt Kuczma of West Mifflin - a member of both the Coalition of Veterans Advocates and American VFW Post 914, Kuczma emphasized. Kuczma even brought along his grandson.

 

"He thought he was fighting the war to end all wars," Ferlo said of the veteran, "and [now] he's fighting for his grandson, so he doesn't have to fight for big oil." Ferlo blamed the Iraq quagmire on all sides of the political spectrum: A Democratic presidential candidate who didn't say enough against the war, "a willing Congress, including some half-assed Democrats" and "flag-waving Republicans who are totally two-faced when it comes to helping our soldiers" after they've come home. "I'm sick and tired of the Bush administration talking about weapons of mass destruction. ... Nobody has more WMD than the U.S. arsenal."

 

"Kill one = murder. Kill 1000's = foreign policy," read one marcher's sign. "Bomb Texas, they have oil too," read another; "Pittsburgh chicks say yinz stop partying, troops are dying."

 

As the marchers passed by, members of Carnegie Mellon University's Delta Upsilon fraternity riled the crowd for a few moments with spray-painted plywood lawn placards sporting jingoist slogans: "Blow Up Iraq," "I [Heart] Bombs," "Iran's Next," "Nuke Paris" and "We need cheap gas."

 

"We're not really advocating blowing up Iraq," said Carl Lindahl. "It's just that the whole idea behind protesting is that it's kind of a confrontational thing. So we're just giving them a taste of their own medicine.

 

"Yeah, it's kind of a joke," he allowed.

 

The march ended without incident at the University of Pittsburgh's William Pitt Union, where Diane Davis Santoriello spoke about losing her son in the war. On Aug. 13, 2004, Lt. Neil Anthony Santoriello, Jr., was killed in western Iraq when an explosive device detonated near his vehicle. His mother wears a star and a ribbon today. "I am in shock that the nation is not outraged by Bush's cowboy unilateralism," she said.

 

Among the marchers rallying that day, Maureen Kelly of Shaler, who taught school with Diane Santoriello at Fox Chapel's O'Hara Elementary, was still outraged over the death of Neil. "He was just such a fine man," she said. "He was an Eagle Scout. It was such a loss. It shouldn't be happening."

Santoriello exhorted the crowd to focus on the 2006 elections - particularly on ousting Sen. Rick Santorum from office - to help quell the Bush administration's power. And she left the crowd with a blessing: May God grant them discomfort enough to continue taking action, and foolishness enough to believe in its usefulness.

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