Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist and former presidential candidate, rallied antiwar protesters here Sunday, drawing comparisons with the civil rights movement on this anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Speaking at a Sunday morning prayer meeting, he called Cindy Sheehan, who first arrived here 22 days ago to protest the war in Iraq, “the conscience” of the nation.
“I come today because I feel that it is our moral obligation to stand and to be courageous with these families and in particular Cindy,” he told the crowd of 400. “I wanted to come on that anniversary to be with ordinary people, as I think Doctor King would have wanted.”
Actor Martin Sheen also traveled to the antiwar encampment Sunday night. He presented a rosary to Sheehan in recognition of the Catholic faith of her son Casey, who was killed in Iraq last year.
Sharpton said opposition to the war in Iraq is not a partisan act. “This is not about politics. This is not about Republican or Democrat. . . . This is about right and wrong,” he said.
Senior Democrats sought to distance themselves Sunday from Sheehan’s protest. On “Fox News Sunday,” Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.), a member of the Senate Democratic leadership, said: “If we withdrew tomorrow, there would be a bloodbath in Iraq. We can’t do that.”
Speaking to reporters at his ranch, President Bush said U.S. troops must continue to stay in Iraq.
“We will stand with the Iraqi people. It’s in our interest to stand with the Iraqi people. It’s in our interest to lay the foundation of peace,” he said. “We’ll help them confront this barbarism, and we will triumph over the terrorists’ dark ideology of hatred and fear.”
More details emerged Sunday about the “Bring Them Home Now” bus tour, which will take the antiwar protest around the country, leaving Wednesday.
Three buses will leave the protest site, carrying members of four groups: Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace. The buses will travel different routes but converge in Washington on Sept. 21.
The first bus tour — the “southern route” — will go to Florida, then north via Atlanta and Richmond. The “northern route” will visit Minneapolis, Chicago, Toronto, Boston and New York. The “central route” will go through Little Rock, St. Louis, Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Sheehan will join the central route for two days at the start, leave to fulfill prior engagements and rejoin the tour in Washington.
“The questions that Cindy Sheehan has for George Bush are now questions for members of Congress and decision-makers across the country,” said Nancy Lessin, co-founder of Military Families Speak Out and a bus tour organizer. “We are not here to make deals with the lives of our children. We will be calling on all decision-makers to bring the troops home now.”