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Hundreds gather to protest Iraq war

You wouldn't pick Bob Carleton, of Jacksonville, as the guy most likely to carry a sign against the war in Iraq. But there was the small businessman and lifelong Republican — he voted for George W. Bush in 2000 — waving his peace sign at passing motorists outside the Medford library at a midday Saturday rally that drew several hundred marchers.

"Kiss my a—," said a woman driving south on Central Avenue who pulled her car over in front of Carleton.

Carleton, who owns a landscaping company, said it was the first demonstration he'd been to in his life. His wife and two sons also took part.

The march and rally were sponsored by Citizens for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than a dozen groups from around the Rogue Valley. It was timed to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq (March 19) and the 40th anniversary of a large march on the Pentagon in protest of the Vietnam war.

It was one of many demonstrations around the nation Saturday, including a large one in Washington, D.C., slated to go to the Pentagon.

Carleton said he turned against the now 4-year-old war "bit by bit."

"It was all the lies," he said. "What we need to think about is the Saudis that stay at the ranch in Crawford," a reference to President Bush's home in Texas, where Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia is among foreign leaders who have been guests.

Marchers began gathering at about 11 a.m. near the corner of Barnett Street and South Pacific Highway in Medford. On a sunny spring day, peace signs abounded, a man strummed a guitar, and children and dogs were mixed in with the crowd. A fair number of passing motorists honked or flashed peace signs.

"I'm sick of our policy," said 45-year-old Chris Williams, of Butte Falls. "If our troops were fighting the war they should be, against al Qaida, I wouldn't be here. Some of this money could have been spent on homeland security."

Ken Landay, 40, of Ashland, said he supported the war when the United States invaded Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, overthrow Sadam Hussein and bring democracy to Iraq.

"But Bush turned it into a fiasco," he said.

Don Majure, of Ashland, said he hoped those who oppose continuation of the war would build coalitions and inspire others.

"I don't think Bush is listening," he said.

Jim Britton, a 59-year-old building contractor, said he didn't expect demonstrations to impress the Bush Administration.

"But we need to put more heat on," he said. "The nation is paralyzed."

Demonstrators marched north to the library — one theme of the march was "books not bombs" — where the Rogue Valley Peace Choir under the direction of Dave Marston sang songs such as "If I had a Hammer" and "Give Peace a Chance."

Gene Robbins, an Ashland dentist holding a sign on Central Avenue, said staying in Iraq only compounds earlier mistakes, and that the United States should pay reparations for damages.

Rick Scheffler, 30, of Jacksonville, marched back and forth across the street in opposition to the crowd at the library, carrying a sign that said, "Vets for Our Troops."

Scheffler said he came "because they called it an occupation."

He explained, "When you call it that you make it sound like you occupied a freedom-loving country, like the Nazis in France or the Russians in Hungary. Our purpose was to free Iraq."

Scheffler said he does not think the war is going well.

"But if we pull out I believe the Syrians and Iranians would divide the country."

At the library, marchers heard short talks from U.S. Coast Guard veteran Hal Anthony of Grants Pass, activist Gerald Cavanaugh of Ashland and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.

Anthony called on voters to contact their representatives to express opposition to continuing the war.

Cavanaugh told marchers that "civil disobedience may be required" down the road.

"They should be impeached," he said of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. "Thrown out!"

Buckley urged people to vote against the war.

"It does make a difference whom you elect," he said.

A panel discussion after the rally featured Dennis Kyne, a decorated veteran from San Jose, Calif.; Linda Richards, an Ashland peace activist; and Mike Greene, a veteran and author.

In a statement released to the media, Ted Stark, the library's interim director, said the library was not affiliated with the rally but supported all citizens' rights of free speech.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Peace rally organizers direct a crowd of around 300 people from the corner of Riverside and Barnett on a walk to the Medford library Saturday.