Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

Peace demonstrators were back on the streets Sunday in L.A.’s first big anti-war march since Saddam Hussein was chased from Baghdad in April, rallying at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue amid Gap shoppers and Marilyn Monroe, Spider-Man and Zorro impersonators. Last spring protesters had poured out in the tens of thousands, although this weekend their spirited ranks numbered 2,000 at most. This comparatively small showing, which had marched down Vine Street, along Sunset Boulevard and up La Brea Avenue, could quickly change in the near future because now “anti-war” carries a different meaning than it did a few months ago.

No longer is it simply the stance of concerned liberals opposed to a pending invasion; instead, it is increasingly the cry of an outraged public against the Pentagon’s bloody occupation of Iraq and the daily revelations of the Bush administration’s lies and manipulations.

Something else was different at the march and rally sponsored by International ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War and End Racism) — the usual infantry of rave kids, Palestinian activists and middle-aged peaceniks were joined by members of a new organization called Military Families Speak Out, whose members’ children or siblings have died in Iraq or are serving there.

A few days before, ANSWER had held a downtown press conference to announce Sunday’s action, and Fernando Suarez, an Escondido man whose U.S. Marine Corps son was killed in Iraq, spoke angrily and eloquently to the few reporters present. On Sunday he mesmerized the crowd that stood on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Kodak Theater: Holding a color photograph of his dead son, Suarez thundered condemnation of the White House and, for a few moments, it seemed that the only war debate in the country was a one-way conversation between this anguished father speaking in Spanish and the Oval Office’s unresponsive CEO.

“The United States,” Suarez said through a translator, “told me my son was shot in the head. But it lied because he had stepped on a plastic bomb that America had dropped. Bush could not tell me the truth because he lacks the moral fiber!”

Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich also spoke Sunday, as well as Vietnam War vet and peace activist Ron Kovic, and the women of Code Pink unfurled a giant satiny slip from an apartment window emblazoned with “Rumsfeld, You’re Dishonorably Discharged.” And, again, these familiar faces were joined by a new kind of speaker, one whose life had been disrupted by the administration’s repressive PATRIOT Act. Josh Connole, who’d been collared for the recent Hummer torchings and then released for lack of evidence, addressed the crowd, as did Jennifer Martin, the mother of Sherman Austin, the young anarchist who is serving a year in federal custody for sponsoring a link on his Web site that led Internet surfers to bomb-making instructions.

And so, five months after George W. Bush had declared the war one for the record books, the air was filled with banners and the scent of sage incense as marchers protested a conflict that wouldn’t go away — joined now by family members whose lives had been forever scarred by America’s quest for empire.

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