Cheney demonstrators, pro and con, flock to traditionally quiet, conservative BYU
Posted: 2:04 PM- PROVO -- Several hours before Dick Cheney even arrived on campus, about 300 demonstrators were warming up the rhetoric at a place long considered a haven for conservatism: LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University.
Whether protesting the Iraq War and Vice President Cheney's choice as BYU commencement speaker, or countering with messages in support of President Bush's No. 2, about 200 protesters has taken up posts on three streets corners surrounding the campus entrance by 2 p.m. They endured a steady stream of drive-by disparagements.
Though nationally controversial, the vice president -- to speak at BYU's commencement at 4 p.m. -- maintains plenty of support in this heavily Republican community.
But the protesters - a mix of students, faculty, veterans and community members - appeared unaffected by calls from passers-by of "Cheney for president," and "Go Bush!"
Dan Kennelly, a Korean War veteran from Sandy, acknowledged that he and other protesters were outnumbered in Utah County.
"But we're going to try," he said. "If someone doesn't want to listen, that's fine, but we'll try."
BYU student and war dissenter Diana Smith said she's used to being a minority voice at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints school, "but while many may disagree, it is usually respectful," she said.
That was the general tenor of the streetside - though as in many protests, a few middle fingers were let loose by angry drivers and indignant protesters. One truck driver screamed to the protesters "you're all traitors!" while several others in this largely Mormon town opted for the more subtle "I'll be praying for you!"
And one graduate, standing across the street from a gathering group of protesters to have his photo taken next to a BYU sign, pined for water balloons. "Seriously," facilities management graduate Travis Gividen said. "I wish I had some right now."
Nutrition graduate Rich Millar took a more diplomatic approach.
"I'm not pro-Cheney or anti-Cheney," he said. "I just think it's a little distracting. I think it's an honor to have the vice president here. I don't think he's a horrible person."
Down the road, in front of the city library, a group of about 100 Cheney supporters gathered to make a stronger supportive case on the vice president's behalf.
Speaking to that audience, State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff praised Cheney for giving "40 years of service to this country." Shurtleff said those like who question the administration's leadership, particularly in Iraq, don't understand the direness of the situation.
"We are at war with an enemy who wants to kill you, who wants to kill your woman and your children," Shurtleff said. "They hope we give in so they can continue with their plans to come here and kill all of us."
Allie Winegar, a BYU senior, said it was a matter of respect -- for both those against Cheney and those, like herself, in favor of his visit.
"I honor and support [protesters'] opinions, but I support the office of vice president and disagree with some of the points my fellow students are making," she said.
"I think [Bush and Cheney] are doing the best they can," added Winegar, who is second vice chair for the university's Republican club.
Heiporo Bradley, a sophomore, wasn't as understanding of protesters' views. "I've heard what people are going off on ... and I think they are un-American.
"If they really, really want to do something, they should go run for Congress," she added. "Too many people are accepting what they are shown [about the war] on TV. They should find out for themselves what's going on."
Sue Curtis, a Utah County resident, joined the rally to support the visit -- but acknowledged "there are things I'm less than happy with" when it comes to Cheney's performance in office.
"I'd prefer all my elected officials to be infallible, but I know that's not the case," she said. "Nobody's perfect."
Even at the pro-Cheney rally, though, opponents slipped in to have their say.
Ryan Grassley, of Springville, said he worked in Iraq recently as a contract electrician and came away a foe of the war.
"It was a load of crap," he said. "Great soldiers were killed because Cheney has got to find his weapons of mass destruction."