Protesters make appeal to patriotism in opposing war
A confrontation in front of the Salt Palace Convention Center Monday between pro-Bush veterans and war protesters started out with jeers and competing chants, only to end with both groups singing "God Bless America."
The incident, in the conservative bastion of Utah, supported activists' claim that a new and stronger anti-Iraq war movement has begun. This peace movement has made patriotism, flag-waving and support for the troops part of its rhetoric.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who called for demonstrations against President Bush when he visited the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention, picked up the theme, both in his welcoming speech to the veterans and to peace activists two blocks away in Pioneer Park.
"We can debate, as we should in a free country, the decisions of our political leaders," Anderson told the VFW conventioneers, many who booed him. "But we must always support without wavering, and be grateful toward, our men and women in the armed forces."
After that, Anderson's comments received nothing but cheers, even as he defended his right to protest.
At the peace rally, Anderson told about 2,000 activists, "We are grateful for what [veterans] have sacrificed for our country and our freedom."
But, "Our nation was lied into war," he said.
"You are true patriots for being here today," he said, referring to the criticism of his call for protests of the president's visit.
Activists were overjoyed at the turnout in Pioneer Park, around the convention center and along the president's motorcade route. It was the largest Utah demonstration against the war since an estimated 2,500 gathered at the Capitol before the Iraq invasion.
"This is a turning point for our nation - here today in Salt Lake City," Anderson said.
Still, not everyone was impressed by the protests or Anderson.
"They have the right to protest," said Bruno Dyszczakowski, a VFW conventioneer from Wisconsin gesturing toward the pickets. "But for a public official to call for demonstrations-that's wrong. It's a slap in the face to all vets. Impeach Rocky Anderson!"
George Coles, a Korean War vet from Illinois, mused: "They couldn't do that if we hadn't fought for their rights. They make me ashamed."
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who accompanied the president, said the president saw the protesters along the motorcade route.
"[Bush] got a chuckle. He said 'Look, look at all the middle fingers.' Frankly, we ought to show respect to the office and the person regardless of what party they come from."
Dyszczakowski said the visiting vets would not hold the demonstrators or the mayor against the city, which has hosted the VFW national convention three times. "You can't condemn a city because [of its] mayor."
The climax of the anti-war rally was the appearance of Gold Star Families for Peace.
Philadelphia resident Celeste Zappala's son Pennsylvania National Guard Sgt. Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq in 2004. "When he finally made it home, I knelt down by his grave and I vowed to him I would not be quiet. If I save another family from from what my family has been through, I will have been successful."
Supporting the troops while opposing the war can be a difficult balance. Debbie Johnson, of West Valley City, is the mother of a soldier who served eight months in Iraq. She and her son disagree on her stand on the war and she would not divulge his name or unit for fear of retaliation against him.
"It broke my heart that he thought I was taking a stand against him- I couldn't make him understand the difference," Johnson said of her anti-war activities.
Sheryl Ginsberg, an activist with Democracy for Utah, has a nephew who is a Marine serving in Iraq.
"We're proud of him," Ginsberg said. "He's a warrior, but he's being used for political reasons. It's a tragedy."
In his welcome to the VFW, Anderson criticized Washington, D.C., politicians for not providing U.S. soldiers better equipment and for contemplating cuts in veterans health benefits.
"You honor us by your presence," Anderson told the vets, and, while not receiving the standing ovation that the other speakers enjoyed, the mayor received 10 seconds of applause, this time without boos.
Tribune reporters Matt Canham, Joe Baird and Heather May contributed to this story.