Those old enough to know said that yesterday's Central Park rally to protest a United States invasion of Iraq drew a larger crowd than similar gatherings in the early 1960's by those who did not want the United States to get further involved in Vietnam.
"If this is an indication of how the American people feel, a large amount of them don't want our sons to be killed," said Frank Phillips, 89, of Long Island, who described himself as a peace activist for 60 years.
Several thousand people filled the park's East Meadow yesterday afternoon, taking in the sun that bathed the slight slope facing a stage where speaker after speaker — from activist actors to relatives of people killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to high school students — strode to the microphone. Their messages were as diverse as those on the signs and T-shirts and leaflets in the crowd:
"It Takes Courage Not to Make War."
"Stop the Drug War."
The event was organized by Not in Our Name, which has a Web site (www.notinourname.net) and a CD with the same title, by Saul Williams. It was one of several protests against an Iraq invasion organized by the group around the country yesterday.
"Any religion that connects violence to God loses me, whether it's the murder of a doctor at an abortion clinic or busboys, police officers and firefighters in the World Trade Center," the actor Tim Robbins told the crowd. He condemned the "oil men" who he said want the United States to topple Saddam Hussein.
Although Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on "The West Wing," noted that "it's great to see a public debate on such a critical issue," no one in the crowd seemed to be in favor of a war.
"You know what I say? I say the hell with the Patriot Act," one speaker shouted. "Victory to the women's revolution!" said another. One man urged everyone to take out their wallets as a show of solidarity with Amadou Diallo, who was fatally shot by New York police officers who mistook his wallet for a weapon in 1999. Then he urged them to reach inside and pull out money for the antiwar cause.
John Earl, a salesman from Greenville, N.Y., held a sign reading "Exxonerate" and "BPrepared," presumably to register his unhappiness with dependence on Middle East oil.
"When they confuse war with civil liberties and rights and lifestyle here, and our patriotism, it's all confused," he said.
One man pulled out a comb and silently scrawled in the dirt, "Over 800 Puerto Ricans Die 9/11 No More."
A 6-year-old girl named Sofia watched the man, then found a stick and wrote "No War" in the dirt, with a peace symbol.
Emily Dische-Becker, a 20-year-old student at Bard College, 22 miles from Woodstock, and a native of Berlin, said she had come to the city with friends, and was leaving disappointed.
"It's like pop culture, concentrated teen angst," she said of the rally. "The rhetoric is too heavy-handed. That's the problem with American activists. They need to simplify." Someone on stage railed against police brutality and she rolled her eyes.
Susie Mee, a fiction teacher at New York University, said she had hoped the crowd would be larger, like those she remembered after the Vietnam War began. "Maybe," she said, "something has to start before it can be stopped."www.nytimes.com/2002/10/07/nyregion/07PEAC.htmlE-mail this article