Cindy Sheehan, who galvanized the anti-war movement this summer with her vigil near President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch, was among dozens arrested Monday during a sit-in at the White House.
Sheehan, 48, carrying a picture of her son who was killed in Iraq, was sitting with other protesters on the sidewalk in front of the building and refused police orders to move.
As a crowd of several hundred people chanted “the whole world’s watching,” Sheehan was the first to be taken into custody.
Others were still being arrested into the evening, charged with demonstrating without a permit, a misdemeanor that carries a $50 US fine.
They were expected to be released after several hours.
“It’s a completely fascinating array of people being arrested,” said Bill Dobbs, spokesman for the group United for Peace and Justice, which organized the event.
“It’s good. This represents an escalation by the peace movement. It’s really sending a message to the White House.”
The protest, which included clergy, military families and veterans, was the latest in a three-day anti-war effort that included a record 100,000 demonstrators in the capital Saturday.
A rally of war supporters on the weekend drew a much smaller crowd than expected.
Sheehan helped spur the anti-war movement with her 26-day protest outside Bush’s ranch, where she demanded to meet with him.
Bush and Sheehan met last year after her son, Casey, was killed in Iraq, but he refused to see her in August.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told a briefing Monday that Bush “is very much aware of the people who have come to Washington, D.C., some to express support for the steps that we’ve taken and a number of others that expressed a different view.”
“It’s the right of the American people to peacefully express their views.”
A recent Gallup poll suggested 55 per cent of Americans favour speeding plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, with other surveys pegging support for the war at an all-time low.
Most Americans say they want money spent on the war to go toward hurricane rebuilding projects and want Bush to focus on domestic concerns.
Bush acknowledged the anti-war sentiments in a speech last week, but refused to change course on Iraq.
“He recognizes there are differences of opinion on Iraq and our role in the broader Middle East,” said McClellan.
“Some people want us to withdraw from Iraq and withdraw from the Middle East. They are well-intentioned. But the president strongly believes that withdrawing . . . would make us less safe and make the world more dangerous.”
Sheehan and others tried Monday to deliver a letter to Bush with the names of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians killed in Iraq.
Other activists conducted hundreds of meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill to demand that U.S. troops be brought home now.