Love Kindness. Do Justice. Change the World ... Right Now!
Love Kindness. Do Justice. Change the World ... Right Now!
DALLAS -- With helicopters buzzing overhead and snipers perched atop a football stadium's skybox, some 50 peace activists staged a six-block protest march Nov. 16 as a counter-demonstration to the simultaneous groundbreaking ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The protest was organized by The People's Response, a coalition of peace organizations including Code Pink, the Dallas Peace Center, the Tarrant County Peace Center and the Austin Center for Peace and Justice. The three-day event began Nov. 14 with a worship service "of lamentation and hope," remembering U.S. military personnel and Iraqi and Afghani civilians killed in the wars. Also memorialized at the service was the late Rev. Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist clergyman and former TPC associate who led an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to halt the Bush Presidential Center through church judicial channels. Rev. Weaver died in June 2008.
Bush called war criminal
Following the worship service were "teach-in" sessions on topics ranging from political accountability to the manipulation of media in the run-up to the Iraq war. Above all, protesters demanded that former President Bush be charged as a war criminal, based in part on his recent admission in his new memoir, Decision Points, that he authorized torture, including a practice known as "waterboarding" that simulates drowning.
Demonstrators from both faith-based and secular peace organizations wore white skeleton masks and dressed in black outfits over which they hung signs with the names and death dates of both U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians. Many carried signs saying "Arrest Bush" as well as wearing plastic holders with copies of the cover of former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.
The demonstration marched peacefully from a public transit station to the SMU campus across a bridge spanning a major eight-lane highway. At the same time, sleek black shuttle buses passed, ferrying invited guests to the groundbreaking ceremonies. Nearly half of the parking at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit train station was blocked off for use by those invited to the Bush groundbreaking, forcing regular commuters to make do with a much smaller parking area.
A few expensively dressed guests in furs and pearls opted to walk from the transit station to the groundbreaking in the 45-degree morning chill. They hurried past the marchers with sharp looks of disapproval. Later at the rally site, four counter protesters held up homemade signs and attempted to heckle the speakers. Every shout of "Go, Bush" from the counter protesters was greeted with a "Go to jail!" from the peace activists.
'Torture is a sin!'
The march ended at a grassy "free speech" area on the SMU campus next to the college stadium. There the protesters waved their signs at passing cars, laid on the grass to dead bodies, and shouted: "Hey, Bush, turn yourself in, torture is wrong, torture is a sin!"
While the turnout for the demonstration was small, its speakers represented the elite of American peacemaking organizations, including:
* Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink, the women's anti-war organization that attempted a "citizen's arrest" of former Bush adviser Karl Rove for war crimes at several stops during his recent book tour;
* Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and co-founder of a group of veteran intelligence service personnel who publicly confronted former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the use of false intelligence during one of Rumsfeld's public speeches;
* Col. Ann Wright, retired U.S. foreign service officer who quit her diplomatic post in protest of the Iraq war;
* Cindy Sheehan, whose attempts to talk with Bush after the death of her son, Casey, in Iraq led to the creation of "Camp Casey," a protest site outside the former president's Crawford, TX, ranch in 2006;
* Colleen Rowley, former FBI special agent who had forwarded intelligence to the White House in August, 2001, that an attack on the United States was being planned by Al-Queda which the Bush Administration ignored.
From indifference to hostility
Reactions from SMU students and other passers-by, many of whom live or work in the affluent cities of Highland Park and University Park abutting the campus, ranged from shrugs of indifference to outright hostility. A passing male student mimicked shooting himself in the head and shouted, "Get off our campus!" Another man in a Ralph Lauren sweater asked a reporter, "Did you come to hear these idiots?" while a Secret Service agent with a visible earpiece smirked behind him.
While observers may have viewed the protest as ludicrous, law enforcement and security personnel took the demonstration seriously. Two helicopters buzzed above both the brief march and the 90-minute rally, while Dallas and University Park police officers stood guard at blocked streets and directed traffic. Both sides appeared to make extra effort to be polite and civil to one another, and there were no clashes between the protesters and the officers.
Yet all was not without conflict. One of the event organizers, a representative of the Austin Center for Peace and Justice who gave her name only as Sylvia, told a harrowing story of being targeted by one of the snipers atop the skybox at SMU's Ford Stadium.
"He was checking me out through his gunsights," she told TPC. "So I pointed at my heart and spread my arms wide. I was telling him I saw him watching me through his rifle scope. Then he took his rifle down. They all have high-powered binoculars; they don't need to look at any civilians through their gunsights."
Deputies in riot gear
Colleen Rowley cautioned the protesters not to attempt to enter the public viewing area for the Bush Center groundbreaking because she and several others had been turned away by Dallas County sheriff's deputies wearing riot gear.
"Even after we took off our masks and put down our signs they still wouldn't let us in," Rowley told the crowd. "I have to say, I think the police looked as sad as we did, that this country has come to a place where it separates people and doesn't allow them to express their civil rights.
"We no longer have our constitutional rights," she continued. "We no longer have God's blessing on America because of what Bush has done. I taught FBI agents for 24 years that torture and killing are illegal. A crime is a crime even if a president commits it."
'Radical respect for the dead'
Ray McGovern, whose Tell the Word Publishing ministry is affiliated with the Church of the Servant in Washington, DC, made the most overtly faith-based speech of the day.
"We're here out of radical respect for the dead, for the 120,000 Iraqi civilians that the Bush Administration said were killed, even though the death toll may actually be one million," McGovern said. "We're here for those lost souls who say we 'only' killed 120,000 civilians. Only? Only?"
McGovern also chastised religious institutions for failing in their moral duty to prevent the Iraq war. "We're here for the churches and synagogues and mosques who ought to be here, who should be standing against the accumulated evil we face. Torture is just wrong, like slavery is wrong.
"Most of all, we're here to protest the lionizing of a person who by any standard is a war criminal," McGovern said.
The People's Response intends to continue its campaign for accountability in part through a Facebook page, Bush Truth.