Anti-war who descended down a closed-to-traffic Broad Street were intercepted Sunday by Nevada City police, who kept the unscheduled marchers from interrupting the ceremonial re-enactment of the signing of the U.S. Constitution that traditionally marks the beginning of the Constitution Day Parade, according to law enforcement officials.
After the annual signing ceremony was completed, the protesters finished their march down Broad Street to the Highway 20/49 overpass, where at least 60 demonstrators waved signs and draped banners off the bridge in opposition to a potential United States military strike in Syria.
“I’m opposed to this proposed bombing of Syria because I don’t believe it is going to help the Syrian people and won’t stop the proliferation or use of chemical weapons,” said Emanuel Sferios, founder of the Grass Valley-based Occucards, which creates post-card sized protest cards.
The Nevada City protest came the day before the U.S. Congress reconvenes today for a week that analysts predict will include the first votes by the full Senate on President Barack Obama’s request for authorization to use military force against Syria for an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus. The U.S., citing intelligence reports, says the lethal nerve agent sarin was used by the Syrian government on its own people and that 1,429 people died, including 426 children.
“We were lied to about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; why should we believe what the administration is saying now?” said Sferios at the Broad Street protest.
While lawmakers in both parties oppose Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, they are hardly united in whether there is sufficient evidence to justify U.S.-led military intervention, and if so, the extent of any potential actions.
“I believe that many important questions remain unanswered,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) — whose First Congressional District includes most of Nevada County — in a statement Friday.
The Obama administration says its assessment is based mainly on satellite and signals intelligence, including intercepted communications and satellite images indicating that, in the three days prior to the attack, the Assad regime was preparing to use poisonous gas.
Beyond those assertions, the public has yet to see a single piece of concrete evidence produced by U.S. intelligence — no satellite imagery, no transcripts of Syrian military communications — connecting the Assad government to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
“The Syrian people are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Sferios said. “They have a brutal, murderous dictator, Assad, on one side, and then they have super powers, foreign governments intervening on the other side.”
There is open-source evidence that provides clues about the attack, including videos of fragments from the rockets that analysts believe were likely used. U.S. officials on Saturday released a compilation of videos showing victims, including children, exhibiting what appear to be symptoms of nerve-gas poisoning.
The White House asserted Sunday that a “common-sense test” dictates the Syrian government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that the president says demands a U.S. military response. But Obama’s top aide says the administration lacks “irrefutable, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt evidence” that skeptical Americans, including lawmakers who will start voting on military action this week, are seeking.
In its absence, Damascus and its ally, Russia, have aggressively pushed another scenario: that rebels carried out the Aug. 21 chemical attack. Neither has produced evidence for that case, either. Some experts think the size of the strike and the amount of toxic chemicals that appear to have been delivered make it doubtful the rebels could have carried it out.
“Prior to any military involvement, we need compelling arguments as to why America’s interests and security are threatened, clear goals for our forces to achieve and a strong understanding of any governing entity that would replace the Assad regime,” LaMalfa said. “These elements have been notably absent from the debate thus far.”
LaMalfa did not come right out and oppose U.S. military intervention in Syria, though. Instead he noted “serious reservations.”
Concerns over military action spawned other protests across the country, including at least one in front of the White House, one in New York City’s Times Square and a prayer vigil in Boston that echoed Saturday’s massive gathering at the Vatican.
“I am here to protest this war. I do not consent to us invading another country,” said Stephanie Chague, a volunteer with the Peace Center of Nevada County who was also at Sunday’s Broad Street rally.
“We do not have the economic resources to do this, either,” Chague said. “It is just a bad idea all around.”
The America Syria Forum in D.C., an organization of Syrians living in the U.S., called for a day of action to protest the proposed bombing to coincide with Congress’ reconvening, Sferios said.
“We decided to have it today so that more people could show up,” Sferios said Sunday. “It is very appropriate to have this before the Constitution Day Parade because of the connection with the recent violations of our Constitution by the NSA and the lies being fed, the faulty information being given to our elected officials by the CIA.”
— The Associated Press’ Phillip Elliot, Kimberly Dozier, Zeina Karam and Darlene Superville contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.