[Politics] Around noon on Wednesday, May 28, a handful of protesters gathered at 8th Avenue and B Street, across the street from a Republican fundraiser for John McCain, reportedly to be attended by President Bush, although we never did see him. The handful were vocal against the display of affluence as business-dressed attendees drove up in Mercedes and Lexus and upscale SUVs to the kids working valet parking, who ran their butts off to keep up with the demand. At times protesters and passengers comically exchanged peace signs, and at times more heated epithets thrown back and forth.
At this point I was still allowed to film from across the street as long I didn’t shoot directly into their “magnetometers” in the gated entrance to the host mansion, since they apparently didn’t want me to capture on film that their computer chip-laden ID badges actually read “666.” Bomb squad trucks drove by to add to the paranoia, although Secret Service agents hadn’t arrived yet. A FedEx truck stopped, and I joked that they were bringing W the “nuclear football.”
Before the main guests were to arrive, around 2 pm, we were hustled off the sidewalk by police, who explained that it was “public property.” Relegated to the grass of residents who offered their privately owned lawns for freedom of expression, we realized we would have to cross the sidewalk to gain access to our cars to leave, and fearing subsequent arrest we left while we could, also worrying our nearby vehicles might be impounded to make room for members of the more well-heeled donor fleet. I’d never been to a protest before, and hoped maybe I’d get shot by rubber bullets or hosed with a water cannon. Oh well. But I got an OK interview with local resident protesting.
At 5:30 pm the rally organized by former Salt Lake mayor Rocky Anderson congregated on the west steps of the City & County building on Washington Square, welcomed by music from local pianist Rich Wyman, with an Iraq Veterans Against the War banner in front of his keyboard. First a woman who had lost a son serving in the war spoke of the war’s futility, then a soldier who had served decried the war and especially the use of torture, which was a fitting overture to the main acts’ agenda. Vocal and emotional support from the crowd made up in intensity what it lacked in numbers, with something shy of 1,000 people on hand.
It was a monumental occasion to hear someone like Daniel Ellsberg speak, someone who actually helped change the course of history by releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which stuck one of the nails in the coffin of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Ellsberg drew parallels between Nixon’s “imperial presidency” and the Bush administration’s abuses of the constitution, citing Nixon’s defense: “If the President does it, it isn’t illegal.” He also railed at length against the use of torture in interrogating prisoners. He proclaimed “many of us would give our lives to have the Constitution back.”
He noted the hypocrisy of people like Scott McClellan, whom if he had realized the illegitimacy of the war when serving in the Bush administration, “how many lives could have been saved, but then he wouldn’t be on a book tour now.” He even more pointedly called out the Democratic congress for not taking on Bush more effectively.
Rocky took much the same tack, asking “what has happened to our democracy, rule of law, and moral principles,” even appealing to “the highest moral values of religion,” a point that made me consider the pious faith of many of the attendees of the earlier event. He ended to vociferous applause, encouraging protestors “to never be silenced. Let us exercise our moral agency in every way we can to build a safer, more peaceful, and compassionate world together.”
It was the Rocky we knew and loved in office: passionate, combative and liberal to a fault. I find myself wary of the touchy-feely rhetoric of left-wing politicos, but the idealism was refreshing. The Democratic party has really lost that in its move to the center. Both sides of the political coin exposed themselves that day, and the compassion of the protestors seemed a lot more attractive than the cold, acquisitive self-interest of the silver spoon crowd. Especially when lives are being lost in a futile war, and on the other side of the ideological fence careers and profits are being made.