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Decked out in pink and shaded by a pink umbrella, Gael Murphy meandered through the crowd, greeting friends and acquaintances from around the country with a wide smile and big hugs. As a co-founder of Code Pink, she couldn't seem to take 10 steps before running into someone else.
"I am here to spread the message of peace, getting out of Iraq and certainly not bombing Iran," she said.
Code Pink is a women-initiated movement working to end the Iraq war, promote peace and advocate funding for health care and education.
Charley Underwood roamed the State Capitol lawn ensuring that participants wouldn't bake in the intense afternoon heat.
"Sunscreen anyone? You're going to need it if you are out here all week," he said.
Underwood, a St. Paul kindergarten teacher, said he decided to come to the protest to administer first aid and make sure everyone stays out of harm's way.
"I am expecting the protest to be big, wonderful and safe," he said.
In a sea of odd characters and extravagant costumes, Andrew Schultz couldn't avoid posing for cell-phone photo ops with strangers. Covered in orange body paint, he didn't exactly blend in.
Schultz said he came to support the message of peace. "We're here celebrating and drawing attention to the cause," he said. "I'm thinking my makeup might sweat off before this is done."
"All of the elephants here are turning this place into a circus," said Gabe Holl of Minneapolis as a bike transformed into an elephant tried to make its way through the crowd.
Holl said he came to the rally to bring attention to Sen. John McCain's "pro-war agenda." Before the march started, Holl said he was concerned about protesters starting trouble or police overreacting to the rally.
"I hope it will be safe," he said. "Both sides can be crazy."
While the war in Iraq was the main focus of many, Alan Layeni came to support the Oromo community.
"Ethiopia is committing genocide against the Oromo," he said. "I am here to call attention to America's support of the Ethiopian government."
Leyeni, originally from Sierra Leone, came with a group of about 20 others. "The U.S. is pivotal in helping the people," he said.
Pang Xiong stood in the growing crowd at the front of the marching line. Quiet and subdued in a crowd of chants and drum beats, Xiong said the number of protesters was the most important.
"I just want to see peace in the world," he said. "It was wrong to go back into Iraq."
He said the crowd would bring attention to his community and their support of Democratic candidates.
TEXT AND PHOTOS
BY EMILY KAISER