Victory for Antiwar Movement and
City Rallies Against Bush, Iraq
5,000 Turn Out on August 30
by Dayne Goodwin
[This report, posted on the
Internet on the Marxmail discussion list, on
September 13, 2006, has been edited for Labor Standard.]
Over 5,000 Utahns
demonstrated their opposition to Bush administration policies of war and
repression during the middle of the workday on Wednesday, August 30. It was a
powerful and effective response to a high-powered push by the Bush administration
to generate support for the failing U.S.
occupation of Iraq.
Not only President Bush but also
Secretary of “Defense” Rumsfeld and Secretary of
State Rice came to Salt Lake to speak to the American Legion’s weeklong
national convention of some 12,000 U.S. military veterans.
This public relations offensive in
cooperation with the leadership of the American Legion was obviously meant to
be the beginning of a fall campaign to try to renew support for U.S. war in the Middle East.
The American Legion is known as a right-wing, jingoistic veterans organization,
and their convention is an occasion where Bush administration officials can
rely on a supportive audience.
The Bush administration’s
desperation to stem waning support for the war was manifest in Rumsfeld’s argument that U.S.
military intervention in the Middle East is a
war against “Islamic fascism” and any opposition is treasonously comparable to
WWII-era sympathy for Hitler. Bush’s Salt
Lake contribution to the propaganda
offensive was his revised version of the old cold-war line, a variation on the
domino theory, “If we don’t fight the terrorists in Iraq,
we’ll be fighting them in the streets of U.S. cities.”
There couldn’t be a much more
favorable setting than Utah,
a state that is one of the nation’s “reddest.” [Comment by Labor Standard:
In this case of course “red” means Republican; it doesn’t refer to the
traditional red flag of the labor and socialist movement. For some reason the
corporate media, on network TV electoral maps, assign the color red to
Republicans and blue to Democrats.] Utah
gave Bush his highest election and re-election vote percentages. Thus
politically dominant in Utah,
the Republicans went all out to get with the Bush administration program,
working to stoke up the relatively receptive local climate for a big show of
support for Bush and his policies.
The Republicans were especially
concerned to scandalize and discourage the possibility that Salt Lake City
Democrat Mayor Rocky Anderson might support and participate in another protest.
The drumbeat of concern that Anderson could
embarrass every establishment institution and upstanding citizen in Utah began as soon as
news of Bush’s visit became known on July 7.
The year before, in August 2005,
Bush had come to Salt Lake City
to speak to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Rocky Anderson sent an e-mail
message to a few friends inside and outside his city administration saying that
there ought to be a large protest against Bush. When the e-mail was leaked and Anderson was confronted about it by the local media, Anderson astounded them
by publicly reaffirming his call for protest. Then Anderson
spoke to the rally of around 3,000 people, widely considered to be a
surprisingly large crowd—larger than the local antiwar protests on the eve of
the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
When it was confirmed this year in
early August that Rocky Anderson had accepted an invitation from the “August 30
Committee” to speak at an anti-Bush protest rally, most local political leaders
screamed their outrage, waxing indignant that Anderson was betraying his
responsibility to be “a good host” and show proper respect for the president. The
Salt Lake Tribune, the “liberal” daily newspaper, published a front-page
story based on interviews with mayors in cities where Bush had spoken in the
past. All these mayors agreed that it would be inappropriate for Salt Lake’s
mayor to participate in a protest of Bush and his policies.
The “news” media put tremendous
pressure on Anderson
personally, falsely reporting that he, rather than the August 30 Committee, had
called the protest, and they created a crescendo of hysteria about “Rocky’s protest.” Utah’s
civic arena was filled with attacks on Anderson
from every possible angle, from efforts at ridicule and dismissal to logically
contradictory charges that “Rocky is aiding the terrorists,” the title of a
featured op ed piece in Salt
Lake’s ‘conservative’ daily newspaper,
the Mormon Church-owned
Deseret Morning News.
When the media learned that Cindy
Sheehan had accepted a personal invitation from Rocky Anderson to speak at the
protest, an invitation Anderson extended after consulting with the August 30
Committee, there was a new round of escalated outrage. The Utah Republican
Party spent seven thousand dollars to run ads on twenty radio stations
providing the mayor’s office phone number for the hundreds of callers who used
it to condemn him.
The radio ad said, “And the choice
is clear. Do we do whatever it takes to win the war on terror? Or do we
embolden the terrorists with a cut-and-run strategy? Mayor Rocky Anderson has
made his decision. He’s invited professional protester Cindy Sheehan to Utah to
convince you that America must retreat…Now Rocky Anderson has invited her to
Utah. Does he really share her anti-American beliefs?”
Few attacks were more personal and
vicious than that of Kirk Jowers, director of the
prestigious Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah,
the state’s “flagship” university. The Hinckley Institute is supposedly
“dedicated to teaching students respect for practical politics and the
principle of citizen involvement in government.” Jowers
was widely and repetitively quoted in the news media for his “political
analysis,” which concluded that “Rocky’s protest” was
motivated by “egocentric narcissism.”
The Mormon Church-owned,
market-dominant, NBC-affiliated KSL Television station helpfully reported that Anderson wasn’t even
supported by Utah Democrat Party heavyweights. The only Democrat in Utah’s congressional
delegation, Representative Jim Matheson, would be respectfully participating in
the welcoming delegation for Bush.
Matheson’s politics are certainly
more representative of Utah’s Democrat Party
leaders than are Anderson’s.
Matheson supports the war in Iraq
and his voting record is almost indistinguishable from his Republican
colleagues. The Deseret News published a front-page story on August 25,
headlined “Matheson far enough to the right for Utahns,”
which reported that of the “fifteen key votes” Utah Republican Congressman Rob
Bishop selected to boast about in a letter to constituents, Matheson had voted
the same way on thirteen of them. Matheson’s spokeswoman explained that on the
two issues where they differed, Matheson’s votes were more in tune with business
interests than were Bishop’s.
The Utah establishment did what it could to
intimidate and discourage participation in the protest organized by the ad hoc
August 30 Committee, which eventually took the name “We the People for Peace
and Justice.” One week before the protest, the news media devoted headline
coverage to the death of young Utah marine
Adam Galvez in Iraq.
Prominently featured was his parents’ condemnation of antiwar protest. This
family’s fervent argument that respect for the soldiers requires support for
the war was front-and-center in the news media up through the day of his
funeral on August 30—including reports on the family’s meeting with American
Legion leaders, the honorary reception for them at the American Legion
convention, and their meetings first with Rumsfeld,
later with Bush.
Two days before the protest, the
Monday August 28 front-page headline in the Salt Lake Tribune bellowed “Utahns: Dissent aids enemies” and reported on a poll
commissioned by the newspaper which found that a plurality of 45% of Utahns statewide agreed that antiwar protests aid the
enemies of the U.S. Plenty of publicity was provided for the August 30 counterprotests with prominent Republican officeholders
speaking. Attorney General Mark Shurtleff would speak
at a “Support the Troops Rally” simultaneous with the antiwar protest, and
Senator Orrin Hatch would speak at a “grassroots” Republican “Support the
President” rally later in the day. And you could ask for Republican
Party-controlled tickets for the evening rally greeting Bush at the airport.
Although the Bush administration
has majority support in Utah,
the slash-and-burn tactics they used and contemplated here—where, by the way,
the infamous Karl Rove went to high school and college—indicate
that they badly wanted to deal a staggering blow to the antiwar opposition.
For people to simply go to the
protest in the face of this fierce, relentless, and apparently overwhelming
hostility was a courageous affirmation of the right to dissent. And some were
intimidated from participating. The fact that, in spite of all this, the
protest demonstrated strong public support made it into a victory for freedom
of speech and the antiwar movement. As some of the news media reported, there
were 5,000 at the opposition rally, about 200 at each of the counterprotests and around 2,500 to greet Bush. The
preferred media line on the day’s events became “thousands protest pro and
That night KSL Television had to
report that opposition to Bush and the war in Iraq was growing. The next day the Salt
Lake Tribune suddenly steered portside, opined that Rocky had a right to
protest, and followed up the next day with criticism of Bush policies in Iraq. The Bush
administration’s offensive to clear and hold a beachhead in Utah had failed.
During Anderson’s talk (which is easy to find on the
click here) he called attention to
the dozens of uniformed veterans participating in the protest—there were many
more in civilian clothes. Another noteworthy aspect of this rally was
well-organized spatial accommodation for scores of disabled and elderly
protesters. Reverend Tom Goldsmith of the First Unitarian
Church was an excellent
First speaker at the rally was
Aaron Davis, president of the Utah
chapter of Veterans for Peace, accompanied by comrades who stayed on stage in
uniform. Davis is a veteran of 18 years in the U.S.
military, first with the Marines during the Vietnam war,
later with the Army until he resigned at the rank of major after developing
antiwar views. Davis’s two sons (who don’t live
in Utah) have both recently done a tour of
duty in Iraq.
Second speaker was eighteen-year-old Katie Taylor, whose partner and father of
their child is in the army in Iraq.
Next was Doug Wildfoerster, World War II veteran and
member of the American Legion.
Members and friends of the popular
band Blue Haiku, talented musician, singer, and songwriter Rich Wyman, and the
Salt City Slam Poets sequentially provided engaging changes of pace between
segments of speakers. The second segment was made up of Tala
Fakhouri of Utahns for a
Just Peace in the Holy Land; Isaac Giron of Socialist
Action, the Brown Berets, and the Wasatch Coalition for Peace and Justice; and
Bob Brister, the Green Party candidate for Congress
in Utah’s Second District, running against incumbent Jim Matheson.
The presence of the Green Party
candidate, incidentally, was emblematic of a struggle that took place among
protest organizers. A small faction of conservative Democrats actually tried to
steer the protest away from taking an antiwar stand. They certainly didn’t want
anyone criticizing Israel,
talking about immigrant rights, or—horror of horrors—providing a platform for
an antiwar Green candidate running against a pro-war Democrat Party incumbent.
They envisioned a “politically broad gathering of well-dressed middle class
people who were disappointed with Bush’s leadership.” They claimed such an
imagined crowd would be much larger than the “motley crew” typically attracted
to an antiwar protest.
The strategist of this faction is
Cliff Lyon, who had lasted about a month as Anderson's communication director a year ago.
“On the job training?” Wednesday, September 21, 2005) After losing
the political battle over the rally program, on Friday night, August 18, Lyon
almost sabotaged the protest by using a rally web site to announce his own
unilaterally chosen speakers’ list. It took Rocky Anderson’s personal
intervention to get Lyon to back off and put
the demonstration back on track.
The last group of speakers before
Rocky Anderson included Gil Iker, a Vietnam-era Green
Beret and local businessman; Debra Daniels, African American director of the
Women’s Resource Center at the University of Utah, who focused on the
anniversary of Hurricane Katrina; and Erica Torres, a member of the Movimiento Estudiantil de Chicanas/os de Aztlan (MEChA) at the University of Utah. Cindy Sheehan had
announced cancellation of her visit the day before when she hadn’t healed as
fast as expected from recent surgery.
After Anderson’s thirty-five minute
speech, the Veterans for Peace led several thousand protesters up the main
street to the Federal Building, where a delegation went inside to hand-deliver
a petition for redress of grievances and an indictment for government
violations of international law and of the U.S. Constitution to the offices of
Senators Hatch and Bennett.