BANGOR, Maine — With a presidential election less than two months away, it’s more important than ever to hold candidates accountable for involving the nation in a war that a growing number of Americans oppose, protesters declared Saturday.

As many of those taking part in a peace rally at Bass Park saw it, the five-year war in Iraq not only isn’t necessary; it is wasting taxpayer dollars that would be better spent on such things as housing, food, fuel, health care and education.

Members of the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine said taxpayers in Maine will pay $364.5 million for President Bush’s request for additional Iraq war spending over the coming two fiscal years.

They said the same amount of money could have been used to provide:

– Nearly 112,000 people with health care for one year.

– Almost 560,000 homes with renewable electricity for a year.

– Almost 10,000 public safety officers for one year.

– Or more than 6,800 elementary school teachers for one year.

“We affirm that those who perpetuate war and injustice are not acting in our name, and we affirm that this is really what democracy looks like,” Doug Allen, a member of the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine and a professor at the University of Maine, said at the start of the rally.

“In our pain, we begin to join hands, join hands to end the war and build the peace and rebuild the economy,” he said, eliciting cheers from an audience of up to 300 people from throughout Greater Bangor and from as far away as Presque Isle, Bar Harbor and Machias.

“As this is a political season, we want to say to those politicians, ‘If you want our support and more than just a vote on November 4, if you want our energy, you are going to have to address these issues,’” Allen added.

The rally, which featured several anti-war speakers as well as folk music, was followed by a peace walk and an address at Hammond Street Congregational Church by nationally known journalist Amy Goodman of the radio and TV talk show “Democracy Now!”

During her speech on the importance of a free press, she described her recent arrest while covering the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Goodman was not alone. She said that more than 40 members of the media were arrested that week, including two of Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” colleagues.

“What is really the victim here is democracy, because if you arrest journalists, if you beat journalists, if you ban journalists, you close the eyes and ears of democracy,” she said.

“There is a reason why our profession … is the only one explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “It’s because we’re supposed to be the check and the balance on power.”

Despite the turnout at Saturday’s anti-war events, not all Mainers believe now is the time to bring the troops home.

Lou Pollock of York is a retired U.S. Navy captain who is a veteran of the first Gulf War. A longtime independent voter, he also is co-chairman of the Veterans for McCain Coalition in Maine.

“No one wants peace more than us who have served in, or are serving in, the military, and certainly John McCain understands that better than most,” Pollock said Saturday in a telephone interview.

“I believe that it is strategically important for the U.S. to make sure that there’s a stable democracy operating in that region” before troops are withdrawn, he said.

Unconditional withdrawal of troops “would have just encouraged the terrorists to continue increasing training in Iraq and Iran,” he said.

Before troops are brought home, Middle Eastern hot spots “need to have capable security forces in place,” he said, adding that the “surge now under way is making a difference.”