WASHINGTON -- Thousands of animal rights activists demonstrated Sunday against the use of animals in medical experiments, against the use of animal skins in fur coats and even against those who believe steak is a good meal.
At 3:30 p.m. EDT, U.S. Park Police estimated that 24,000 activists had turned out for the march from the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument to the Capitol.
'This is the first march for all animals, from all over the world,' said one of the marchers, Kathy Parker, 45, of Sparks, Nev., education director for Nevada Animal Rights Society. 'The time is now to finally address the issue.'
Leading the demonstration was Peter Link, executive director of the National Alliance for Animals Legislation, a lobbying group, and Tom Regan, head of the Culture and Animals Foundation. Demonstrators planned to remain in Washington Monday to lobby members of Congress.
This march 'is the single most important event' ever for the animal rights issue, Link said, adding the movement plans to mark the 1990s 'as the decade for the animal rights movement.'
Carrying signs with slogans such as, 'Eat beans, not beings,' the marchers came from across the United States, including Oklahoma, Montana, Rhode Island, California and Missouri.
Among those scheduled to speak at the rally were entertainers Christopher Reeve, Grace Slick and Laura Nyro and cartoonist Berke Breathed, creator of Bloom County.
'I'm not a member of any animal rights group, but I'm giving careful consideration to the issue, mostly to urge moderation and to be reasonable,' Reeves said before the rally.
The actor, best known for his movie roles as Superman, said he did not agree with the more radical marchers who oppose animal research, saying 'humans are more important than rabbits' in finding a cure for such diseases as AIDS.
In fact, the demonstrators ranged in their beliefs. While many professed to be vegetarians concerned primarily with the use of animals for nutrition, others claimed to be more radical in their support for animal rights.
Renee Bowman, a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which opposes vivisection, was among those determined to take their message to the White House.
Bowman handed out flyers that said, 'Please tape a dime to this card, a penny for each year of horror these helpless animals have suffered, and mail it to our first lady, Mrs. Barbara Bush.'
The animals, Bowman said, were monkeys 'locked away for more than 10 years' at the National Institutes for Health in nearby Maryland, where 'they've had the nerves in their spine severed and were then virtually tortured in experiments to force them to use their crippled arms.'
'Because George Bush won't accept responsibility, we're going after Barbara Bush,' Bowman said.