An army's worth of empty boots were laid in rows on the swampy grass of the Boston Common on Saturday afternoon. Although they initially appeared to be nothing more than old, beat-up shoes, each pair of boots was marked with the name, age and rank of all 156 soldiers from New England who have died since the Iraq war began.
This exhibition was only one part of the protest organized by New England United, which brought about 10,000 people to the Common on Saturday to protest the War in Iraq.
There were 10 other protests on Oct. 27. Organized by United for Peace and Justice, the national protest included cities from San Francisco to Chattanooga, and demanded the immediate release of troops from duty and an end of military funding for the war.
Sophomore Laura Solow, a member of Earth Emerson who attended the rally, said she felt the protest highlighted the need to bring soldiers home. She saw people dancing, smiling, cheering and hugging strangers in the street.
"It's the most important issue of our generation," the film major said. "Emerson kids, even if they didn't actually go, couldn't ignore it when they walked outside and there was music and laughter was right in front of their school. It really puts a positive spin on it."
New England residents from all walks of life could be seen at the rally-a gaggle of the Raging Grannies, an activist group of caroling women that now has more than 60 chapters worldwide, families with small children and middle-aged couples reminiscing about Vietnam War protests heldon the Common decades ago.
Dozens of organizations sponsored the protest, headlined by anti-war activists Howard Zinn and Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo.
Arroyo kicked off the rally by telling the crowd about his 2003 effort to have the city council petition the president to end the war.
"They [the city council] said it wasn't Boston's business. But it is our business, it's every American's business," Arroyo said, before encouraging people to start petitions and bombard the White House with e-mails demanding the end of the war.
Zinn is a World War II veteran, and a well-known anti-war speaker. The crowd greeted him with applause befitting a rock star. He criticized the war for the death and destruction it's caused in Iraq, and for the weakening of Americans' civil rights that he said it's caused here.
"This government has violated every human right thinkable, here and in Iraq," Zinn said.
Speeches focused on human rights issues for both Americans and Iraqis. Annie Diemand, a member of Military Families Speak Out asked for people to remember the Iraqis being hurt every day.
A replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was set up next to the rows of boots. It listed the names of the more than 3800 American soldiers who have died since the war began in 2003.
Surrounding the display were banners advertising what could be done with the money spent in Iraq in one day.
Almost $720 million is spent daily to finance the war, according to a report by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist from Columbia University. The daily expenditures on the war could pay for 34,904 four-year university scholarships, 1,153,846 free school lunches or healthcare for 163,525 uninsured Americans.
Amy Levesque, a member of Emerson's Young Republicans for America chapter, said in an e-mail that, while she did not attend the protest herself, she does believe that people have the right to stand up for what they believe in.
Levesque said she initially supported the war, but feels it has taken a direction that its supporters did not expect.
"The idea behind the war was right," the sophomore marketing communication major said. "However, I think it has gotten lost in what the war has now become."