About 200 people protested the war in Iraq on Market Square Sunday night, calling for an end to the occupation and holding candles in remembrance of those who have died. They listened to several speakers and heard a performance by contemporary folk singer-songwriter Tom Paxton. The event was organized by Progressive Democrats of America and timed to coincide with the third anniversary of the 2003 invasion. Cindy Sheehan, mother of a solider killed in Iraq and a leader in the anti-war movement, made an unexpected appearance at the rally.
“I’m a surprise guest,” she said, bringing wild cheers from the audience. “Today should be a day that we focus on our brave and wonderful young people who have had their lives stolen by George Bush.”
Sheehan was vaulted into fame during August 2005, when she camped outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas for an extended demonstration when he was on vacation there.. At Sunday’s rally, she accused the president of lying to the American people, prompting what she described a dangerous and illegal war.
“If he doesn’t deserve to be impeached, I don’t know who deserved to be impeached,” she said.
She was also critical of Democrats, who she said gave the Republicans a “rubber stamp” to invade a country that was not a threat to the United States. But she praised Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who recently introduced a measure in the United States Senate to censure Bush for authorizing domestic eavesdropping.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) also took the stage to address the lingering and unresolved issues of war and peace — and he encouraged participants of the peace vigil to work toward making a change to bring an end to the war in Iraq.
“We have a role to play in the direction of this country,” he said. “We have the ability to turn this around.”
Moran said that America’s reputation in the international community has been harmed by the war, which was fought with a group of allies that Bush called a “coalition of the willing.” Moran criticized this approach, invoking the ancient world to illustrate his point. He said that although America had the opportunity to become the “the Athens of the modern world,” the Bush administration has transformed the country into “the Sparta of the modern world.”
“It was Tacitus who said ‘They gave us a desert and called it peace.’ Well, that’s not the kind of peace we’re looking for,” Moran said. “We should be conducting diplomacy across the table rather than at the point of a gun.”
Mayor Bill Euille also spoke, asking participants to pray for the safety of Americans in harm’s way in Iraq. He was critical of the money that was being spent on the war effort, saying that it could be spend in communities across the United States.
“No matter what your position on the war in Iraq, war is wrong,” he said, adding that Bush’s tactics have damaged America’s reputation abroad. “Bridges have to be rebuilt between the United States and the international community.”
IN THE AUDIENCE, many participants of the peace rally were upset with an administration they say lied to provoke a war they describe as unnecessary. They disparaged suggestions that Iraq is better now than before the 2003 invasion, and many of them called for the troops to come home.
Stephen Spitz questioned why American troops are still needed. He said that Bush’s actions have made this country more susceptible to terrorism, creating a dangerous new hostility toward America and prompting a civil war in Iraq.
“There were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam has been deposed and the country has had a free election,” Spitz said. “So why are we still there?”
Marge MacKeith said that many of arguments that Bush made before the war turned out to be flawed or incorrect. She described his push toward the war as a deceptive manipulation that employed lies and misinformation.
“He came in with a preconceived agenda and sold the argument under false pretenses,” she said. “I don’t believe in killing people — especially for political gains.”
Paul Peterson said that he suspects Bush wasn’t being upfront about his motivation for the invasion. He said Bush, a former oil executive, had ulterior motives that had nothing to do with spreading democracy or combating terrorism.
“I think it was because of oil,” Peterson said. “A lot of countries have weapons, so why did we have to invade Iraq? Oil.”
Other participants were critical of Bush’s argument that “regime change” was needed in Iraq. Judith Martens said that she thought Bush went after the wrong target, attacking the leader of a country that did not attack America.
“I’m not sure that Saddam was as big a threat as the press wanted us to believe,” Martens said. “And I’m not a believer that wars ever really solve anything in the end.”