President Bush came to town Monday, and the 1960s broke out for a couple of hours. Rocky's Big Protest Show was big, all right. Hundreds of people gathered in one corner of Pioneer Park, many of them carrying signs — "More Trees, Less Bush," "Gay Vets Opposed to War," "Mormons Against Bush," "War Dead on Your Head," and, well, you get the idea.
The, um, crowd, which consisted largely of young people, the old hippie crew and a few of the more conventional types, shouted slogans and cheered the speakers.
Where is Abbie Hoffman when you need him?
Leading the way, of course, was — and this seemed strange — Rocky Anderson, who made national news by becoming perhaps the first mayor ever to welcome a president to his city by organizing a protest for him. Under the job description of mayor, nobody could recall seeing "dis the president." And yet, somehow, the mayor seemed surprised when he was booed as he addressed the VFW convention earlier in the day.
Rocky got a better reception from the people in the park — "Rocky, Rocky, Rocky!" they chanted. Maybe they were expecting Sly Stallone. Rocky proceeded to deliver a speech, which, if it could be heard above the din of the honking cars on 300 West, began with him leading a chant, "We're not going to take it anymore!"
The man with a gift for picking fights and making enemies had called for the "biggest demonstration this state has ever seen." About 1,000 people showed up, tops.
"If there was a protest, it was a mild one," said Sen. Orrin Hatch.
One of the protesters, a man named Ron who surveyed the scene from his bike, said, "I thought there would be more people."
All of this started when Anderson sent an e-mail to activist leaders and select Democrats, calling for them to organize a demonstration to protest, well, you name it — advocates for seniors, homosexuals, the anti-war crowd, Social Security, environmentalists, anti-nuclear-testing, and anti-nuclear waste storage. What, no PETA?
Welcome to the Chuck-a-Rama of protests. If you were against something, this was the place to be.
All of this could have been lost on the president, whose motorcade missed the show. In the end, it was a protest with an audience of other protesters and of course the media. Hatch confirmed that the president was aware of the protests and that Hatch told him not to worry about it, to which the president supposedly replied, "I'm not worried."
Like many, you might be among those who are finding it increasingly difficult to support the war in Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have been found, and it's costing a billion dollars a day and who knows where it will all lead. Not that any of us believe the United States can't accomplish its objectives. All we have to do is undo thousands of years of cultural, religious, tribal, social and political traditions and rivalries, and we should easily be able to make the necessary democratic transition before the next century. It seemed like a fairly big understatement when the Bush administration recently admitted that, jeepers, maybe their original goals were "unrealistic" and they would have to lower their original expectations.
So maybe protesting the war didn't seem like such a bad idea even in the Reddest of the Red States. But was this the way to do it? There was something about a mayor rallying a crowd against the president that didn't feel right. Nor did the occasion.
Didn't it seem somehow disrespectful for the anti-war crowd to crash a party thrown by veterans of foreign wars? That was one reason the protest was held in the park, but they nonetheless were stealing some of the spotlight from the VFW gathering and using their forum as their own.
Judging from the size of the crowd, perhaps others felt the same way.
Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. E-mail email@example.com