NEW LONDON — Joan Chrisler of Milford felt it was time Wednesday for her to speak up.
The psychology professor at Connecticut College made her usual trip to New London Wednesday, but she wasn't there to teach. This time, her reasons were personal.
"I'm here primarily because of the Iraq war. It is just so distressing every day to see the carnage. I think it has to come to a stop. I'm proud to have the chance to stand up and say I have had enough," Chrisler said as she stood on Williams Street in the hopes President Bush's motorcade would see about 1,000 protesters lined up for a block toward the entrance to the Coast Guard Academy.
Bush was whisked in to deliver the commencement address through another route, but organizers were thrilled with the intergenerational and racially mixed crowd organized by Connecticut Opposes the War, the Answer Coalition and Veterans for Peace.
The protesters stood along a portion of Williams Street and up Route 32 off Exit 83 of Interstate 95, while about 100 Bush supporters, mainly veterans, held a counter-protest across the street as New London police with dogs patrolled the center.
Exchanges between the sides were spirited, but never went beyond shouting and often had a tinge of Vietnam War protests 30 years ago with the counter-protesters screaming, "Commie traitors have to go."
New Haven had a sizeable contingent with about 20 people on a bus and several more who came on their own. Khalil Iskarous, 39, a researcher from Yale University, said it was important to tell the world the war is not being conducted "in our name. I believe it is through the actions of regular people that we will see an end to this," he said.
Victorya McEvoy of New Haven was similarly moved.
"I stand in opposition to the madness that is trying so desperately to take over this country. I want to be part of the solution, rather than be part of the problem," she said.
The event didn't lack for theater, with several protesters sporting prison garb and huge paper mache heads of Bush and his Cabinet.
The antiwar groups carried signs such as: "Quagmire Accomplished," "Draft Young Republicans" and "Bush Creating the Terrorists Our Kids Will Have to Fight."
One side yelled, "You are the right-wing road show," to which the other side replied, "You're a liberal girlie man," and "Go to Iraq as human shields."
Chrisler was among about 100 academics organized by chemistry professor Marc Zimmer of Connecticut College who said the Bush administration has sacrificed science to political philosophy.
Susan DeNoia of Waterford, an employee at Electric Boat, joined the counter-demonstrators and stood with several out-of-state people from Gathering of Eagles, a support group for veterans.
"Our troops do so much for us and sacrifice so much, in some small way I wanted to give back. I'm greatly appreciative. There is a group of Americans who really do appreciate the president, our country and our troops," DeNoia said.
She felt the war was a worthy cause and protesters who want the troops to come home were demoralizing.
Across the street, Ted Goodnight, 33, a member of the Rhode Island National Guard who spent nine months in Afghanistan, said most early operations were simply a show of force and wasted resources, leaving troops short of ammunition and other supplies when the focus switched to Iraq.
"I felt betrayed just like every serviceman who participated in that war. It is time to bring them home," said Goodnight, a member of Vets for Peace.
"We reject the fascist message of hate," said Brian Becker, national coordinator of the Answer Coalition. "We have more in common with all the people who are the targets of the Bush administration than we do with Bush and Cheney and their billionaire backers. The politicians won't end the war, we are going to end the war," he said.
He called the latest response by Congress, which has dropped a timetable from the Iraq war spending bill, "pathetic capitulation once again by the Democrats."
On the other side, Roger Petersen of New Britain made a pledge of his own.
"Everywhere they go, we will go to protest them. They are not interested in winning this war at all. They are interested in America's defeat," Petersen said.