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Rogue Valley residents rally for peace

Locals marched and gathered in protest against the possible war in Iraq

About 350 Rogue Valley residents joined a global anti-war rally Saturday, gathering for marches, speeches, prayers and music to protest a potential U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

Local participants ranged from about 100 people who marched in a drizzle down Highway 99 from Ashland to Medford to a couple hundred activists who stood in drenching rain at local parks.

We're here in opposition to this crazy rush to a nonsensical war, said Karen Wennlund, 42, an herbalist from Talent who was at the front of the morning march.

Protesters joined crowds of thousands in cities across the country and around the world. Organizers claimed turnouts of — million in Rome, a million in London and up to half a million in Berlin. About 100,000 protesters were expected in New York.

Many local participants carried large American flags or wore shirts that read Peace is Patriotic. They were careful to distance themselves from a handful of protesters who burned an upside-down American flag at a Friday rally in Ashland.

It's divisive, said Peter Buckley, an Ashland resident and recent Democratic candidate for Congress.

It's basically taking a mainstream protest against this policy and making it extremist, he added. It's not just a radical fringe making this protest.

Buckley received two calls at home Saturday from enraged people who thought he condoned flag-burning.

My dad was in World War II and Korea; I carried the flag on the last march, he said.

The peace protesters called for President Bush to pursue alternatives to war. The Rev. Michael Powell of Ashland's First Methodist Church told a sopping crowd at Medford's Veterans Park that there's no question that Saddam Hussein is evil.

But he decried plans for blanket bombing that would kill innocent civilians and leave Baghdad in ruins.

The question of the hour is, what level of evil, what level of violence, are we willing to participate in to cast out the evil of Saddam Hussein? Powell said.

Public response to the anti-war protesters was mostly positive, participants said. Several passing cars honked approval, although marchers said they'd also been met with obscene gestures and a few cars that swerved perilously close.

But honks of approval were also offered to advocates for war.

Across the street from the Veterans Park prayer service, a man with a green umbrella held a sign that read Bomb Saddam.

I'm the lone voice of reason, said the man in his late 20s, who refused to give his name.

He said he opposed the sentiments of the peace-rally crowd.

I think they stand for appeasement, he said. Peace is not appeasement. Peace is when you have security and you're OK.

Protesters ended the day with a concert at a downtown Medford teen nightclub. Justine Cooper, director of Peace House in Ashland, spent the morning hanging banners at VIBES Main 1.

Friday's flag-burning incident was a disappointing turn from what have been several positive rallies, she said.

I have sorrow that something that would divide us came out of ego rather than making more community, she said.

Peace House is looking to work with everyone in coalition.

Jason Clark of Ashland lies by his sign as he and other war protesters ?die? during a peace rally at Veterans Park in Medford Saturday. The gesture symbolizes Iraqis who would die in a U.S.-led attack on Baghdad. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven