The Iraq war reaches a milestone Wednesday and local activists in the Tampa Bay region will mark the five-year anniversary with a mix of protest and tribute.
A handful of events are planned — from Brooksville to St. Petersburg — as part of a broader day of action where tens of thousands of demonstrators across the nation will demand an end to the war and for fellow Americans to honor the fallen soldiers.
"We believe we should not be in Iraq to begin with," said Dan Tucker, a Pinellas County organizer with MoveOn.org. "We don't believe the politicians are doing enough to get us out of there."
The first event begins at 11 a.m. in downtown Brooksville outside the district office of U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville. It is organized by a diverse coalition of 25 area peace and political organizations, including the Florida Peace Action Network, the Tampa chapter of the Muslim American Society and the Pinellas County Democratic Party.
Organizers plan to place boots and children's shoes on the steps of the Historic Courthouse to symbolize the deaths of Americans and Iraqis.
The goal of the event — which is expected to attract 50 to 150 people — is to raise awareness about the deaths in Iraq that no longer dominate the news, said Mike Fox, one of the organizers.
"Getting out in the street and protesting is like voting in many countries except here," said Fox, a member of the Florida chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America. "This is first and foremost for participants to come together as a community."
The Brooksville event will mirror another demonstration by hundreds to be held later in the evening in downtown Tampa outside the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.
It will be followed by a series of candlelight vigils organized by MoveOn.org in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Indian Rocks Beach.
The vigils are part of hundreds scheduled around the country, Tucker said, in honor of those who have died in the war. Iraq war veterans and families of soldiers are expected to speak.
"This is to show respect for those who have given so much up," he said.
The events against the war are expected to also draw counterdemonstrations.
In Brooksville, an informal group of war supporters plans to stand across the street from the courthouse. The group is led by Dee Mills, the mother of Marine Sgt. Lea Mills, 21, who was killed in April 2006 when a roadside bomb exploded next to his Humvee in the Anbar province of Iraq.
"I don't know the intentions of the protesters and I certainly understand the people's rights to protest the war — my son died for that right — but I just do not want to see any negativity toward our troops," she said. "It's so undeserved."
For Mills, the day will mark an important moment, too. It's the first time she will demonstrate in support of the military after her son's death.
"I've gained enough strength now," she explained, "to understand that there is a bigger picture than my own grief."
John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.