In what may be the last anti-war rally before an actual war begins, an estimated 2,000 people marched for peace Saturday in Salt Lake City. It was the largest outpouring of Utah sentiment against a U.S. invasion of Iraq since protests began last fall.
Protesters wore buttons proclaiming themselves "pro-American, anti-war" and carried signs that read "peace is patriotic." The crowd included octogenarian veterans of World War II, as well as doctors in white lab coats and ministers in pastoral robes.
Although war appears imminent, those who marched Saturday said they continue to be hopeful, or if not hopeful, at least determined to make sure President Bush knows that there are Americans who disagree with his policies.
"I think if enough people take to the streets, it shows that the people against the war are vehemently against it," explained Pierre Lamarche, a philosophy professor at Utah Valley State College, who joined other protesters as they marched up State Street to the state Capitol.
"Honk for peace," some of the marchers' signs read, but the honking at the intersection of State and Second Avenue appeared more related to impatience than solidarity. Bill Parkinson fumed as he sat in a cab, thinking of his ice cream melting in the back seat as the traffic waited for marchers to file past. Besides, Parkinson thinks the protesters have it all wrong. "Let's just get it done and get it over with," he says about the bombing of Iraq. "These people are going to look like idiots when it's over with," he said, pointing to the people marching past him.
A 79-year-old woman sitting later on the steps of the Capitol disagreed. "I think it's inevitable we're going to war," she said. "But I want to show them there are a whole lot of us who care. We don't believe in bombing people. How could that be Christian?"
Bush's much-publicized use of biblical scriptures to justify his stance on Iraq drew criticism from several quarters Saturday. "You can justify anything you want to believe if you go to the right (Bible) verses," Episcopal Diocese communications director Daniel Webster told the ralliers, "but that's not what the Bible is for."
"Where's the heart of our president, who wears his Christian faith like a badge?" Keller Higbee asked the protesters as they gathered at the City and County Building before the march. "Where's the outrage? Where's the empathy of this nation under God, whose first commandment is 'thou shalt not kill'?"
The Rev. Silvia Behrend of First Unitarian Church, dressed in purple robes, has attended several of the peace rallies held in Salt Lake. She keeps coming back, she said, because "it's the right thing to do. It's a way of giving expression to all of the gamut of American sentiment." Her church is hosting a candlelight peace vigil today at 7 p.m.
Protesters were also encouraged to sign up for civil resistance training today at the Jubilee Center, 315 E. 100 South. A notice advertising the event also suggested that anyone needing a lawyer contact Ron Yengich. Civil resistance events are being planned for Monday.
"Silence is consent" was the theme of Saturday's rally and march, which coincided with hundreds of rallies across the globe.
"The media is silent and silence protects abuse," argued Jackie Anderson, a former reporter for the Sun Advocate in Price who said she was fired for writing an anti-war op-ed piece. "We have a message for King W," Anderson told the crowd: "Ignore us at your own peril."
Do any of these protests have an effect? Sandra Wilkins thinks so. "The demonstrations have already softened the hard rhetoric," she said. "I think the (war) plans have been altered to some degree." But even if her presence Saturday had no effect, Wilkins said, she would still be there. "My conscience says 'this isn't right.' "
It was a sentiment echoed by others. "I'm here to witness for peace," explained Patricia Samul, who has attended nearly every peace rally since last fall, traveling by Flextrans and motorized wheelchair. Pointing over her shoulder to the bumper sticker on the back of her wheelchair, she said her motto is "God bless the whole world, no exceptions."