November 24
by Cris Stoddard

A Different Grassy Knoll - part one of two

President Bush came to Colorado Springs today to talk to the soldiers stationed at Fort Carson.

An activist group that I helped found, the Springs Action Alliance [SAA], decided, along with our parent organization, the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, to stand out in the cold to show W that not everyone in conservative Colorado believes that his foreign policies are just ducky. The national media, of course, decided that fifty some odd protesters did not a story make and so you most likely won't be reading much about us as you sip your morning coffee. I am here to fill in that gap. My activist collegues, Thomas Mc and Mark Lewis will also be releasing their reports of the day and I will link to their stories as they are released.

What you will see in the national media is exactly what I feared you would see when I came home in-between protests to watch the televised coverage: Presidential Campaign Photo Ops. This article in the Washington Post shows Bush speaking at Fort Carson standing in front of a giant American flag with happy, uniformed troops some five persons deep. Isn't it so much more comfortable to listen to a rhetoric-laden speech when you are standing on the stage and facing the the back of the speaker? The USS Lincoln photo opportunity back when the war in Iraq ended in April did get muddied recently with bad press and so this new photo opp ought to become better campaign fodder. Nothing is more heartrendering to the American public than our uniformed troops wildly "Hoo-ya"-ing to the fine evil-conquering President.

Actually, the sad truth is, even the military is getting sick of Bush's empty rhetoric. The story circulating on the AP wire today has some thought-provoking statements from the military families regarding the degree to which Bush actually cares about his troops overseas. These statements, although more bold than what we heard from military personnel earlier this year, still are conservative in that the implied assumption is that the Iraq War was justified. After all, in Bush's theatre, you need to willingly suspend your disbelief regarding terrorist cohorts and weapons of mass destruction.

I had a fun conversation this afternoon with someone regarding Bush's claim, made before the troops yet again today, that Saddam Hussein held deadly weapons in Iraq. My friend's query was that we, the US, also have horrible weapons, no? I replied that we did: Bush. The comeback to that one was that Bush was a Weapon of Syntax Destruction.

Bush's speech to the troops was not terribly informative and it was mostly the same re-worked speech that he has been making ever since 9.11. I will let you be the judge of this speech since what he has to say during a photo-op moment disinterests me. This event was a pep rally and a way to appease the kids that we are sending into action. Bush's actions are what matter and his actions are alarming. While I have a few commentaries to make in part two of thsi post regarding what I view as failed military policies, I want to first share with you a more personal view of the day's events.

It was 40 degrees F today in Colorado Springs and the sun dominated the clouds. We just had a couple of inches of snow dropped on us over the weekend and so there were traces of frosting splattered across the front range. Fort Carson sits right below Cheyenne Mountain, where NORAD/NORTHCOM is housed. It's beautiful here and has the stuff of patriotic froth. We, a lively bunch of local liberal activists, ventured out with our hats and our mittens and our coats to greet the Bush motorcade on its way into Fort Carson. We brought our signs and our smiles. We are a happy group and also a motley crew. Fifty protesters were there at the height of it all. We were students, vets, military spouses, concerned citizens, hippies, and also professionals, like myself, who could afford to take the day off of work for Bush's visit.

Mark Lewis wrote our Press Release and did most of the media interviews. He was well suited to be the spokesperson for this action since Mark is a US military veteran and since Mark is the most well-read of anyone that I know on the matter of veteran's benefits. His talking points for the event are the subject of my next blog post. Mark is also a veteran of many a protest and knows what works and what does not work. He has seen the worst this country has offered in terms of bogus military policies and heinous actions taken against protesters.

Thomas Mc, who runs a leftist news and opinion website, was there with his great banner: Support Our Troops! Bring Them Home NOW!!!" This same banner back in April at SAA's anti-war rally incurred the wrath of many a drive-by Christian in this town. I have held that sign and been flipped-off by drivers who had crucifixes hanging from their rear-view mirrors. Today, people of all sorts drove past this same sign and honked and waved and gave us the thumbs-up and peace signs. These people seemed to span the gamut from army personnel to college students to Broadmoor types. Fort Carson has lost 30 people to the Iraq War/AfterWar. That base has been hard hit. Just last Friday Fort Carson lost another soldier in Iraq. People responded positively to his sign today; that says much.

Dorothy, one of the mainstays of the Justice and Peace Center, was there, rock solid as ever. She must have some incredible stories of activist work in the Springs since that group has been at it for the past decade, at least. She has also been incredibly patient with the birth of our little off-shoot [SAA] and she has been entirely supportive of us.

The day at Fort Carson started with the MPs searching the Springs for a stolen Humvee. The day started off for W with him signing the $400 Billion defense bill. It has a few token concessions to Mark's talking points that I will discuss in part two of this post. W then boarded Air Force One and flew into Petersen Air Force Base, across town from Fort Carson. W was greeted by the base's family liason {remember, there were photo opps to be with army wives) and also by Governor Owens. Owens is a fine republican doing all he can to ensure that Colorado is in lock-step with Bush's agenda. Senators Allard and Campbell were not present, which surprised me only because they both have made a career this past year of sacrificing themselves to Bush's altar. Everytime I write to them I remind then that are not supposed to be Bush's flunkies but that they are the balance, the check. They still respond with the same form letter, "Thank you!"

As Bush was landing, our peace group held a press interview in front of our banners right outside of the gate to Fort Carson. The newscaster kept saying, "and the protesters claim to be non-violet." No, that is not a typo. At first we pointed out that we were not claiming to be anything, we simply were non-violent. Then someone caught that he was indeed saying, "violet," Frivolity ensued. "Oh, so we can't wear lavender here?" and "Had I known that we were not being violet today, I would not have worn purple!" We are a happy lot. After the film crew ran their live feed to the Noon news and left, we toted our signage up to a better locale. The gate to the base is hidden below an overpass and so we climbed up the embankment and perched on the side of a very busy highway, Academy Blvd [Hwy 83].

We still had no idea whether Bush would come by motorcade or by helicopter or even if he were entering Fort Carson at the B Street gate. The scene was a titch eery to me. On my way over I had driven a recon loop to determine the police staging areas. They recon us; we recon them. However, this protest site was just outside of the city limits. So, while the Colorado Springs PD staged most of their vehicles on the community college's campus [within city limits], the roads themselves were left to the Sheriff's Department. Last February the CSPD threw cans of tear gas at our peaceful anti-war rally gatherers. The CSPD is a force that I do not trust. In contrast, the El Paso County Sheriffs were the height of civility. They were not at all freaked out by our presence. They let us walk up and down the roads, cross the highway, and stand in the median. They seemed neither bored nor bemused nor angry nor uptight. They were just there. We respected them and they respected us. Quite a change from last April when we had the cops videotaping and photographing us and our cars for their files.

I have to admit that the scene was eery and alarming to me because no one seemed very concerned about what a horrible location this road was for a security breach. Does the term Grassy Knoll come to mind? Honestly, it looked just like Dallas for a moment. Scattered people, all sort of milling about. I have become used to ridiculous security measures in the post 9.11 era and this looked like the authorities were just there to ensure a safe picnic and parade. I reallymena it when I state that Colorado Springs is less a conservative nightmare town than it is just a simple midwestern town tucked below a 14,000 foot mountain. You could be in Iowa here, the atmosphere is so down home.

Finally, a sheriff asked us to all move out of the way of the fastly approaching motorcade.

First came the helicopters. Then came the CSPD sirens blaring. Then, before it really registered, came the black cars with tinted windows, some of which were rolled down, and then there was George W. Bush. Looking at our signs. Everyone, everyone, became silent. That is my most outstanding memory of the day. We all fell silent: no loud jeering, no one yelling epitaths. We silently watched Bush go by and then the remainder of the very long motorcade. The last black SUV had a driver who waved at us. We waved back. Then we looked down the hill below us to where the gate stood and a few protesters had remained. Bush entered the base and we made our way back to our cars.

We agreed to meet later in the day but that second protest was ill-attended. I went home to catch Bush's speech on televison. When I returned, only Thomas and his sign were there. The film crew from Tokyo was departing. They had interviewed an army soldier's wife earlier. She was young and she was articulate. When she told them that her husband, who is in Iraq, had asked her to go stand with the protesters I was quite moved. The Tokyo film crew was enthralled. I wish that local TV stations had gotten ahold of her for an interview. Yet now, just Thom and I and his banner stood. The film crew told us that the President had left by a different exit and that the day was a wrap. As though we were in Hollywood. We stood there for a moment and as Army folk left the base, they honked and waved at us and the giant banner.

They were all smiling at us.

Click here for part 2

About the author:

Cris Stoddard is a a co-founder of the Springs Action Alliance and has done extensive work with the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. She is currently about to graduate the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, with a Bachelors degree in Political Science, and has been accepted into the Doctorate program for Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana.

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