Peace activists celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth date Thursday by calling for an end to war in Iraq and urging Nevada's political leaders to carry on his dream for world peace.
About 30 people sang "We Shall Overcome" on the steps of the U.S. courthouse in Reno in front of 3,000 brightly colored, paper "peace cranes" they presented to the local offices of Nevada's congressional delegation.
Some carried signs that read "Bushs appear presidential only at war" and "War for re-election." A pair of backers of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, held up placards in support of his campaign as a "peace candidate" for president.
"We want our troops home safe," said Lisa Stiller of the Reno Anti-War Coalition, which organized the rally along with Citizen Alert.
"We want the killing to stop. We want our country to focus on human needs rather than power and oil," she said.
The hand-folded origami peace cranes have become an international symbol of "peace and nuclear abolition," said John Hadder of Citizen Alert.
"In recognition of peace and nuclear disarmament, today on this 75th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr., we honor his vision for peace and justice," Hadder said.
Volunteers took about 100 hours over the past five months to craft 5,000 of the multi-colored "peace cranes" in a Japanese tradition furthered by a young girl, Sadako Sasaki, in the wake of World War II.
Sadako was two years old when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 and by age 11 was diagnosed with Leukemia, "the atom bomb" disease, Hadder said.
She began folding cranes with the goal of completing 1,000 to earn a wish for better health, according to the tradition. She completed 644 before she died, but her friends finished the task as part of a new tradition folding peace cranes in a wish for nuclear disarmament.
In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a peace crane was erected in Hiroshima Peace Park.
"We ask you be mindful of the dream of Martin Luther King and the message of Sadako," Hadder said Thursday.
"Over 50 years from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are still in the shadow of nuclear weapons," he said.
Hadder criticized Bush's plans for new testing of nuclear weapons and development of "mini-nukes" that can be deployed in the battlefield, a move Hadder said would "blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional weapons."
"The Bush administration has shown a clear aggressiveness and unilateral approach to foreign policy and appears to be willing to use nuclear weapons," he said.
Stillar said U.S. soldiers continue to fight a war in Iraq "that never should have been started."
"Some 495 Americans have already died there, most of them after President Bush declared `the war over,'" she said.
"Thousands of civilians have died. And what was accomplished?" she said. "No weapons of mass destruction were found. No ties to al-Qaida were discovered. Iraq is in chaos"
In addition to the 3,000 cranes in Reno, the other 2,000 were being delivered to lawmakers in southern Nevada and in Washington D.C., Hadder said.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was the only member of the delegation who sent a representative to the rally in Reno Thursday.
"We share a vision of the world where all people can live in peace and safety. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat to that peace," said Paul Thompson, Reid's northern Nevada representative.
Jeff Knutsen, state coordinator for Kucinich in Nevada, handed out campaign material. He said Democratic front-runner Howard Dean shares Kucinich's support for an end to war in Iraq but that Dean also advocates continued U.S. occupation of the country.
"Dennis is the only peace candidate because he is the only one against occupation, and occupation is war," Knutsen said.
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Timeline of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life
Source: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/ (The Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University)