By Patti Thorn | DNEVER – “Follow Us. Welcome to Denver,” read the electronic sign on the police vehicle.
And with that conciliatory gesture, an unpermitted march for peace was allowed to proceed Wednesday afternoon through downtown Denver streets – peacefully.
It was easily the largest demonstration in a week filled with them.
At least 3,000 Iraq war veterans and war protesters marched from the Denver Coliseum to the Pepsi Center perimeter. The veterans’ ultimate goal was to deliver a statement to presidential candidate Barack Obama, urging him to promote the immediate withdrawal of “all occupying forces” from Iraq, among other points.
After about an hourlong standoff with police at the end of the march, contact was made with an Obama aide. Mission accomplished.
Co-sponsored by the anti-war group Tent State University and the Iraq Veterans Against the War, the march began around 3:15 p.m. outside the coliseum after 9,800 people attended a free concert featuring the heavy metal/rap band Rage Against the Machine and three other acts.
During the four-hour show, audience members were urged to join the demonstration. Band members and others stressed the need for the march to remain peaceful.
At one point, rapper Jonny 5 of Denver’s Flobots referred to conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who has been widely quoted as saying it would be his “dream” for riots to break out in Denver during the convention. The musician told the crowd the worst thing they could do was make that dream come true.
While some feared police would attempt to stop the march, officers surprised the group by escorting the protesters through city streets, redirecting traffic and pedestrians along the way.
“Under the totality of all the circumstances, it was handled in a manner that best addressed the public safety at the time,” said Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Joint Information Center, a clearinghouse for convention security information.
The group of mostly young people walked behind a banner that said: “Support GI Resistance.”
Wearing T-shirts and stickers with slogans such as “Arrest Bush” and “Make Out Not War,” they sang rolling chants, Marine- style. “Tell Me What We’re Marching For,” sang one group. “Stop the torture, stop the war,” answered another.
People lined the streets to watch, most approvingly.
As the marchers wound their way through the neighborhoods west of the coliseum, they found solidarity with a group of Latinos holding up an anti-war sign and cheering them on. “Si, se puede!” shouted some young marchers. “Yes, we can!”
But not all were supportive. From the balcony of an apartment complex, a man yelled at the throngs to move on. “Don’t come back here,” he said.
As the march wore on under a hot sun, some dropped out. Others found ways to take shortcuts. Two teens on the 16th Street Mall shuttle wearing Rage Against the Machine T-shirts admitted they had skipped part of the march and planned to join it as it neared the end.
One foot clad in a black shoe, the other barefoot, James Koller, 17, explained: “Someone clocked me in the face and took my shoe in the mosh pit. This is a quicker route to the Pepsi Center.”
Koller’s friend, Joey Minicucci, 18, of Littleton, noted that his brother was in the military and would soon be sent to Iraq. That was one of the reasons he was going to the march.
Anne Hill, of Montrose, had other reasons. “I’m marching because it seems to be the last vestiges of our free speech and because people have demands and our government’s not listening,” she said.
The march came to a standstill at the perimeter of the Pepsi Center around 6:30 p.m., at which time the veterans attempted to have their statement delivered to Obama. Tension with police seemed to escalate, until several veterans stepped forward and saluted police.
“We are your brothers and sisters in arms,” said one. “We don’t want to hurt you. We don’t want you to hurt us.”
With that, the standoff melted away and soon an appropriate aide was contacted.
“I figured as long as we kept things peaceful, they would hear us, and they did,” said Army veteran Jeffrey Wood.
Staff writers Allison Bruce, Daniel J. Chacon, Abigail Curtis, Jeff Kass, Dan Kelley, Sue Lindsay, Steve Myers and Judi Villa contributed to this report.
© 2008 Rocky Mountain News