Victory for Antiwar Movement and Free Speech

Salt Lake City Rallies Against Bush, Iraq War
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 attacking Anderson, 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 con.”

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 Internet—for example, 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 emcee.

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. (See “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.