More than 200 protesters braved biting winds Saturday as they rallied in downtown Buffalo on the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to demand the return of troops.
The stone perimeter along Lafayette Square was lined with white crosses, each bearing the name of a soldier from Western New York killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Some demonstrators waved signs with a one-word message that read: "enough." Others tapped tambourines and shouted into bullhorns, spurring the crowd to sing a familiar anti-war verse: "All we are saying is give peace a chance."
The executive director of the Western New York Peace Center eyed the crowd from the steps of the monument at Main and Court streets. Colin Eager declared the event a success. His organization was among more than a dozen groups that sponsored the demonstration, and he said they were anticipating a crowd of about 200.
Others were disappointed with the turnout, even for an afternoon in mid-March that felt more like January.
"I'm amazed we don't have at least 500 people out here," said Warren Campbell of the Buffalo War Resisters League. "They've got to get more college kids involved, like they did in Vietnam [protests]. I think kids have too much to do nowadays."
Among the speakers at Saturday's rally was a man who served in the Army during the first Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s. Jeffrey Brennan, a member of Western New York Veterans for Peace, talked about the adverse effects the war has had on tens of thousands of American families. Brennan criticized American foreign policy and suggested that leaders have failed to learn from past mistakes.
"Continuing to do the same thing and expect a different outcome fails the sanity test," Brennan said.
Lisa Walter, a human rights and environmental activist, said the use of torture in the war by U.S. forces amounts to abandoning America's "core values."
"There are no circumstances in which torture is acceptable. None," Walter said to cheers of onlookers.
Rally organizers encouraged people to put pressure on their congressional representatives to demand a withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. Eager criticized Rep. Brian Higgins and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, two Democrats, for refusing to support "sensible legislation" that would create a concrete plan and time line for the return of troops.
Some speakers focused on the war's economic toll, saying the United States already has spent nearly $248 billion on the war. They urged people to compare the "war burden" to the economic commitment the government makes to public health, education, housing and other priorities.
The Rev. Joel Miller of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Buffalo has preached and written about the Iraq War. Miller, a member of the Western New York Peace Center, accused the Bush administration of deceiving the public ever since it made a decision to invade Iraq.
"My government lied to me," he said.