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Protests In Smalltown America

by Rosemary and Walter M. Brasch

on historic February 2003 demonstrations
(AR) BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- On a frigid Saturday afternoon, about 150 people stood in front of a 150-year-old brick courthouse in rural Bloomsburg, Pa., and called for an end to George W. Bush's impending war.

They were infants and the retired; housewives, laborers, and professors; combat-decorated soldiers and conscientious objectors. All opposed terrorists and Saddam's ruthless dictatorship. All knew there was no connection between Iraq and those who had launched the suicidal terror against America. Bundled in ski caps, gloves, and layers of clothes, the people sang songs of peace and listened to speakers who impassionately said they weren't much good at organizing but felt a need to do something.

Homemade signs on posterboard and manilla file folders called for America to "Pray for Peace" and "Seek Alternatives to War." They rightly claimed, "War will Not Bring Security." One sign, a sly attack upon the conservatives' mantra of "family values," declared, "My Family Values Include Peace." Other signs attacked Bush, calling him "Errand Boy for Big Oil."

Some of the signs pointed out, "We Aren't un-American; We are UN-American. Let the UN Do Its Work." And still others emphasized the people "Support the Troops, Not the Oil-in-Chief." The protest was anti-war; it wasn't unpatriotic. A large sign, facing the Main Street traffic, asked motorists to "Honk for Peace." A few motorists gave the protestors the finger or shouted obscenities. But, most honked, some with a tentative quick "beep," others with sustained seriously loud honks that might have exceeded the town's anti- noise ordinance.

Some drivers flashed the peace sign, others raised a clenched fist of support. Even if they didn't stop and participate in the rally, they let the people know that in this conservative county of 63,000 that had given Bush 55 percent of their vote in 2000, they too supported peace, opposed the race for war, and didn't buy the President's selective mishandling of the truth.

While George W. Bush struggles daily to build a war coalition, world wide a peace coalition has blossomed. In more than 600 cities, from Bloomsburg to Tokyo, millions gathered, Feb. 15. In Spain, more than two million gathered in Barcelona, Madrid, and dozens of other cities; in Berlin, 350,000; throughout France, more than 300,000; in Melbourne, 200,000. In London, almost a million of the nation's 50 million population gathered at Hyde Park in the largest political protest in the British empire's 2,000 year history. "The war is solely about oil," said Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, who emphasized, "George Bush has never given a damn about human rights."

In Scotland, Glasgow's Lord Provost, Alex Mosson, declared the masses were "saying quite clearly, and we are the voice of the majority, that we don't want this war." In Rome, organizer Luigi Bobba told more than a million people that the Italians "are friends of the United States, but we are also friends of peace." In Athens, birthplace of modern democracy, 50,000 supported the Americans, but not their leaders. In Los Angeles, Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell, and Rob Reiner were among more than 40,000 who filled four blocks on Hollywood Blvd. "This is the greatest support we could ever give to our troops," said Reiner, "because what we are trying to do is protect them from going into harm's way needlessly." In Milwaukee, with the wind chill below zero, two protestors even wrapped themselves in plastic and duct tape to mock the Administration's scare tactics and vapid belief that putting plastic and tape around windows would somehow keep radioactive and chemical gases from homes. In New York City, with the national TV networks and 5,000 police recording their every move, about 400,000 people, almost shoulder-to-shoulder, flooded about a mile of First Avenue, spilling past police barricades on Second and Third avenues.

On that cold Saturday afternoon, they heard Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, plead to President Bush to "Listen to the voice of the people, for many times the voice of the people is the voice of God. Listen to the voice of the people saying, 'Give peace a chance.'" They heard from social activists Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, and Pete Seeger. And they heard the music of Richie Havens who played "Freedom," just as he had 34 years earlier at Woodstock. America is poised to become the aggressor nation in a manipulated, unjustified war. While Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda still flourish and operate world-wide with little more than a pesky inconvenience of operating around the American powers, our government switches targets.

Can't find a 6-foot-5 man on dialysis who lives in a cave? OK, we'll find one man in a bunker -- the same one we couldn't find the first time around -- and we'll kill several hundred thousand Iraqis to get to him. It's little wonder that Americans are confused when after months of Osama-this and al-Qaeda-that, we suddenly learn that Saddam is once again the main enemy. Why? Because one day George W. Bush said he was, and thus it has been ever since.

Between tax cuts for the rich, droppings for the middle- class, and a new war, Americans are certain to forget they just lost their jobs, their savings were wiped out, the country's economy has been decimated, the environment has been grabbed by Big Business, and the oil interests still dominate the administration's agenda -- all in George W. Bush's first (and hopefully only) term as president. And it's working.

The thought of what else this administration can destroy by following this war-happy course of action has many Americans worried and fearful and feeling helpless. Unlike some protestors in the urban centers, no one in Bloomsburg, Pa., on I-80 just 140 miles west of New York City, wore tie-dyes. There was no one who had shocking pink hair, wore large hoop earrings, or had dreadlocks. In fact, there was only one Afro-American in the crowd, reflecting just about the county's racial diversity. In Bloomsburg, unlike other American cities, there were no police to monitor the crowd; there were no orders that the people couldn't march. The three Columbia County commissioners, all of them conservative, even encouraged the rally. In a nation in which the Bush Administration has been actively and systematically trying to suspend the First Amendment and curtail civil liberties, it was a welcome endorsement for the county's citizens who, at least for now, highlighted the people's rights to peacefully assemble and to speak out on the issues.

The Bloomsburg demonstration may have been one of the smaller ones in the world, but it was no less important and every bit as indicative that most Americans do not support President Bush's rush to shed the blood of Iraqis and Americans. On a hand-lettered sign in front of a brick courthouse in a rural conservative community where ancestors more than 200 years earlier fought in the Revolutionary War were signs calling for peace, and one that boldly stated, "We Want Our Country back." No more needed to be said.

Rosemary Brasch is a Red Cross national disaster family services specialist and labor activist. Walter Brasch, an award- winning columnist and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is a former newspaper reporter and editor

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Albion Monitor February 18, 2003 (

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