COLUMBIA — More than 1,000 people gathered outside Boone County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon to rally for peace and to mark the five-year anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
After listening to speakers and musicians for nearly 45 minutes, veterans, children and activists marched from the courthouse to Peace Park and chanted, “We are 1,000 strong. We’re here to say the war is wrong,” to the beat of about 15 drums.
Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American who’s lived in Columbia since 1995, addressed the crowd before the march.
“Our silence is part of the suffering,” he said. “Are we going to wait another five years and hope for a resolution?”
Victoria Day of the Columbia Peace Coalition, which sponsored the rally, said, “I think the event was hugely successful. This is the most energetic and diverse crowd we’ve seen. People are much more serious this year.”
Angela Stockell of Columbia was attending her first peace rally.
“They lied their way into the war,” she said of the U.S. government. “We need to find a way to get out.”
Dick Dalton, a peace-rally veteran from Jefferson City, attends a peace vigil for an hour in Jefferson City every Wednesday.
“Our world is too small to be fighting each other. We’re too interdependent,” said the Lincoln University health instructor. “The old values of patriarchy are being replaced by partnerships, non-violence, and we’re getting back to the root value of what it means to love.”
Dalton, who said he resisted the Vietnam War, said peace rallies for the Iraq war are different. He said the uprise in American citizenry doesn’t seem as strong as it was 40 years ago.
Karen Dwyer, 60, of Columbia spoke of the importance of rallying for a cause.
“It re-energizes those that come, and they think, ‘Hey, I’m not alone,’ ” she said.
The crowd also had a number of families in attendance, including the Rege family from Columbia.
Stephanie Rege, 28, had her 3-month-old son, Eliot, nestled inside her black fleece jacket to protect him against the cold March air, as her husband, Ryan, watched their other child, Oscar, 5. As they marched, Oscar climbed into a red wagon while his dad pulled him along.
“We are very uncomfortable with how our country behaves on a world level,” Stephanie Rege said. “You can’t just sit at home and talk about what you’d like to do. You have to come out even when you have a 3-month-old to bundle up.”
Barbara Hawley also regularly brings her children to peace rallies in Columbia, although they didn’t accompany her to Sunday’s rally.
“I think Columbia is very supportive of individual rights to speak out, whether they’re for or against something,” Hawley said.
As participants entered Courthouse Square with anti-war signs, they signed a large white rectangle cloth to affirm their support to end the Iraq war.
Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, was scheduled to speak at the rally but couldn’t because of family medical issues. Her husband, John Baker, kicked off the rally by reading her statement.
Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spoke about the urgency of bringing the troops home.
“We are here today because we stand for peace. ... We must say to the president and Congress that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home now,” Ratliff said to cheers. “We stand today committed to the calls of freedom, and we are in this struggle with you for the long haul.”