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Peace March Planners Expect Hundreds

But this time, local activists are joining forces with others. And they plan to be noticed. Richmond groups are organizing a rally downtown this Saturday to protest a potential war against Iraq, bringing a crowd, they hope, of 300 to 500.

"It's going to be extremely large, for Richmond," says one of the organizers, Jim Straub. In fact, he hopes it will be the largest anti-war demonstration ever to occur in the city. When Straub and fellow march organizer Jason Guard researched old newspaper articles and talked with longtime Richmond activists, they say, they failed to find any description of a bigger rally here, even during the Vietnam War.

Marchers will gather at the Coliseum at 2 p.m. Saturday, after the morning's marathon is over. After several speakers address the crowd, the group will march in a loop downtown, ending at the bell tower in Capitol Square.

The idea for the march began with Food Not Bombs, a local group that's best known for feeding the homeless every Sunday in Monroe Park. But they anticipated only "a small, modest rally, right here, with the usual suspects," Straub says. Now, organizers expect busloads from Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, the Twin Oaks commune in Louisa County and local universities. More may come from Washington, D.C., Blacksburg, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia churches.

The success of the Oct. 26 peace rally in Washington, D.C., bestowed an air of optimism on a meeting of about 20 march organizers last Tuesday. At the national rally, one organizer told the group that protesters numbered more than 100,000. "Yesss!" exclaimed Straub, throwing his pen in the air.

The main cry for Richmond's rally is "No blood for oil" — no war in Iraq. But the varied groups participating have also agreed to support an "interesting lot of purposes," says organizer Cindy Simpson, a member of The First Unitarian Church. They include stopping racial profiling, ending Israel's occupation of Palestine and blocking Virginia budget cuts that target the poor.

After the rally, Guard says he hopes a statewide peace coalition will emerge to coordinate future protests across Virginia. After all, he says, "if your neighbor doesn't know what you're doing, you must not be doing it right." —

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