Anti-war and peace

Hostilities between groups of Reno protesters were mostly confined to a rousing chant-off

Jennifer Kennedy of Sparks wears duct tape over her mouth to show how anti-war sentiments can be silenced by the media and the government.

Jennifer Kennedy of Sparks wears duct tape over her mouth to show how anti-war sentiments can be silenced by the media and the government.

Photo By Debra Reid

The first sound that could be heard was drumming. Janice Gardipe and Lois Kane, both members of local indigenous tribes, began singing a pow-wow song in their native tongue. Some of the people assembled in front of the Bruce R. Thompson Federal Courthouse on Saturday turned away from Virginia Street to listen to the song.

Others faced traffic, holding up signs with slogans:

“Who would Jesus bomb?”

“Secure America, end U.S. imperialism.”

“Trade Bush for peace.”

“Would you send your children to Iraq to die?”

The crowd was diverse, from senior-citizen veterans to college students, from young professionals in their 30s to high-school punks. About 100 people attended the Reno “Bring Our Troops Home” event organized by the Reno Anti-War Coalition. Reno was one of dozens of cities across the nation where demonstrators were calling for an end to the U.S. occupation. In Washington, D.C., about 20,000 demonstrators—including about 1,000 “pro-warrior, anti-war” family members of military personnel stationed in Iraq—marched. About 4,000 protesters took to the streets in San Francisco.

As in other cities, many protesters in Reno aimed their outrage directly toward Bush & Co.

“Dear Mr. Bush, where are the weapons of mass destruction?” asked a sign carried by Bob Sebring, 47, a former combat engineer.

“Supporting our troops means bringing them home,” Sebring said. “We don’t need to be over there. All the extra money could be used to support people and programs over here, to raise Social Security, for instance.”

Kenny Kizzler, 18, of Sun Valley, wore a sweatshirt: “I want another president.”

"[It’s time to] bring the troops back home, bring unity back to America, and to stop fascism,” Kizzler said. “Bush is denying everything, and [he] went against both domestic and international opinion in invading Iraq.”

Roger Best, a 60-year-old veteran, held aloft a sign that said: “If you can’t stand dissent, you live in the wrong country.”

“We should be making changes by peaceful means, by setting an example,” he said. “We have no business sending 150,000-plus people halfway around the world with no support from other countries to impose Bush’s idea of what … a free society in Iraq should be.”

Len Schweitzer, 66, a former U.S. National Guardsman, said that the so-called “war on terror” is a complete misnomer.

“The Bush family and oil are kinda marinated,” Schweitzer said. “When all the other layers are peeled off, it gets down to the oil issue. … Presently the U.S. people are being terrorized by their own government through the Patriot Act, which has weakened the Bill of Rights, rights that this country was built on.”

Anti-war sentiments weren’t the only ones expressed Saturday, though. Across the street, waving U.S. flags and homemade signs of a different nature, about 40 people gathered for a counter-protest. This group encouraged drivers to “Honk if you love our country!”

Various slogans, insults and advice were shouted to the peace protesters.

“Smoke more pot, Americans you’re not.”

“America haters, go home.”

“Who’s your mascot, Saddam Hussein?”

Rich Lowell, 57, drove to Reno from Dayton to take a stand.

“In the history of the world, talking doesn’t bring peace,” he said. “Neville Chamberlain didn’t beat Hitler, though he promised ‘peace in our time.’ People who talk peace don’t win it. We need to nip [terrorism] in the bud, take a stand. Those anti-war people have a right to talk, a right to open discussion. But you have to look at history.”

David L. Armstrong, a 66-year-old Sparks veteran, dressed for the event in his Navy uniform from the USS Essex.

“Those people are absolutely socially brain dead and socialists,” he said. “We finally got a president with the strength to do what his father didn’t do, to clean up that mess. Americans are the only people in the world who want to free the world; everyone else wants to dominate the world.”

Cars driving by blasted their horns and people rolled down their windows, giving praise or grief to both sides. At one point, the groups attempted to drown each other out, with the anti-war protesters chanting “Peace not war!” and the pro-war demonstrators yelling “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”

Despite this evident tension, things stayed relatively peaceful, with both parties remaining in their respective corners. A security officer described the event as “very calm,” adding that both groups had promised mutual respect. During a March rally by the Reno Anti-War Coalition, pro-war demonstrators marched onto the courthouse steps and verbally harassed the anti-war protesters.

Kate Morra of Reno organized Saturday’s more civil counter-protest.

“I wanted to show that there are people in this community who support President Bush and the troops,” she said. “[The anti-war protesters] have a right, but they don’t have their facts straight, and they’re demoralizing the troops and the families and loved ones of the troops.”

Perhaps she hadn’t heard of the “pro-warrior, anti-war” group called Military Families Speak Out, composed of family members of those serving in Iraq. The group’s mission is listed at its Web site. “The president says, ‘Bring them on,’ but it is our loved ones who are facing the bullets, and we say bring them home now.”

One girl marching with her mother in Washington, D.C., carried a sign that read: “Bring my daddy home alive.”

One pro-war demonstrator accused the peace supporters of mercenary activism.

“We have problems here, but this is the U.S., and we have to support [Bush’s war policies],” said Gerri Timberlake of Reno. “We aren’t paid to be out here, but those people are, they’re paid by the greenies and politicians and political groups.”

Joe Fergusen, 24, a grad student and local anti-war activist, called this statement “laughable.”

“Of course we’re not paid,” he said. “We want to be here.”

Counter-protesters continued their taunts.

“Hey, how many North Koreans are over there?”

“God bless America, and God bless you too, even though you’re idiots.”

The Irving Berlin tune, “God Bless America” (composed by Berlin, incidentally, as a song of “peace” and first broadcast on Armistice Day in 1938), was sung by the pro-war crowd and several counter-demonstrators put their right hands to their breasts.

At 2:30 p.m., the permit for the anti-war protest expired. Both groups lingered for several minutes, then headed toward their cars. A man in cowboy boots and an American flag shirt came up to an anti-war protester wearing a T-shirt with an anarchist symbol and handed him a patriotic poem.

They spoke for a minute then headed separate ways.

“That’s what makes us a free country," the cowboy said.