Call me crazy (or slow, or slowly going crazy; smart money’s on #3), but I’m beginning to think this Cindy Sheehan/antiwar movement second wind thing just might have some legs.
Joe Bauman of the Deseret Morning News reports that over 1000 people protested against George W. Bush and his rotten policies while Dubya was in their town recently, trying to pump air into his dead Trojan horse of a war while misspeaking to a VFW convention there.
The locale? Salt Lake City.
That’s correct: Salt Lake City! In Utah. Yes: that Utah! Of the United States. Right: that United… (Ed.: Mark, they get it.)
OK, OK. So, anyway, speaking of right, it would be hard to be more right, in the wrong sort of way, than the residents of the Beehive State (so nicknamed, as every school kid knows, for the hairdo invented there). In last November’s U.S. presidential non-election, Utahans or Utahites or Utahonians -- anyway, the people who live in Utah -- presented Dubya with his highest percentage of any state’s popular vote, and even though nationally there was widespread electoral monkey business that kept the monkey in business and cast doubt on cast ballots, Utah’s numbers are likely legit. (I guess somebody’s gotta be number one in the “What the f---?” department.)
This is where the Republican Party would probably be appreciative if I reported that approximately 1000 counter-demonstrators appeared at the Salt Lake City rally, too. But since Bauman tells us it was attended by only about six “death/imperialism/torture/Home Shopping Network proponents” -- oops, I misquoted that, sorry; “pro-Bush activist[s]” -- that would be lying. (Did I just hear some Republicans go, “So?”)
Of course, suddenly-feisty Utah is not the only hotbed of support for Sheehan and her powerful message of plain truth. Outbreaks of good stuff have been spotted all over the U.S., including right here in my fine hometown of Sacramento.
More than 500 of us attended the August 17 candlelight vigil in front of City Hall, during which we all stood silently for thirty minutes around a casket adorned with both an American flag and a sign that said: “George: Please speak with my mother.” It was gratifying, and moving, to be amidst so many involved (and incensed) individuals.
We’ve also had pro-Sheehan/antiwar rallies at the same busy downtown intersection the last three Saturdays. At all, horns sounded aplenty. About 80-100 people attended the initial demo, with double that for its encore; 300-plus were at the third. At the second one, we suffered a pro-Bush contingent of our very own. Like Salt Lake City’s, it was a bit on the smallish side: it consisted of, um, a single person (at least, we think he was a person; the DNA results should be back next week).
Truth be told, I think he just happened to be passing by on his way to get some chow, but his presence certainly was not uneventful, leading to an incident the following account of which has been heavily edited for continuity purposes (at least one name has been changed to protect the implicitly guilty):
Our hungry interloper (“Hank”) first alerted us to his presence when, as he was crossing the street in our direction, he began yelling at folks in a stopped car that they “shouldn’t be supporting these people out here! Don’t be honking for them. Don’t be supporting that woman!”
I held my tongue as he angled across our corner while giving us the evil eye. Then, as he stood at the crosswalk to our left, waiting for the light, he glared our way and said loudly:
“You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ traitors!”
I think the “Snap!” inside me was so audible it startled a couple of passersby.
I narrowed the twenty-foot gap between Mr. Invective-Hurler and myself to about six inches in what must have been, for those who keep track of such things, near-record time for gap-closing, at least in the “49-year-old man bearing a ‘Fo’ Shame, Faux Cowboy’ sign” category.
As close to anyone’s face I wasn’t kissing as I’ve been in a very long time, I demanded: “And why is that?”
“‘Cause you’re all supporting that Cindy Sheehan woman.”
That did it, although, frankly, it probably wouldn’t have mattered much what his reply was, for I’ve long had it with that inane “traitor” garbage. Much shouting ensued, and for a very long time. During the fracas, my good buddy, Mark W. Bradley, and another friend, Ken, came over to either calm things down (Mark), or add fuel to the fire (Ken). It was sort of a bad cop, good cop, bad cop routine, with all of us surrounding the man with no brain who insisted throughout that “Saddam Hussein was a threat” to the U.S and that Sheehan and those supporting her were hurting America.
I know what you’re thinking: what’s the point of arguing with somebody who agrees with Dubya -- on anything? Excellent question. I’d become so angry, though, I’d incautiously jettisoned two long-standing personal rules: don’t waste time arguing with a) a Bush supporter or, b) someone who’s been drinking (which often leads to becoming an “a,” I suspect). With Hank, we had a double winner.
I finally did give up the ghost later in the proceedings, but not before some priceless exchanges:
I asked Hank (well, yell-asked), “So where do you get your information, Fox News?”
His “answer”: “So where do you get yours, the BBC?”
“Some of it, yes,” I replied.
“Oh-ho!! Is that right?” he bellowed. “Well, whyn’t ya move to England, then?”
I’ll admit, this one stopped me in my tracks. In fact, I fell over, temporarily dead. Fortunately, I revived not long afterwards, just in time to hear Mark ask him: “Wait a minute, isn’t Great Britain our main ally in the war you say was necessary?”
“Well, um, yeah,” came the brilliant riposte. Hank was then quickly off to another wild tangent, a pattern he established from the get-go and one that is exactly identical to the “debate” style to which I’ve been subjected by nearly every right-winger with whom I’ve been silly enough to argue.
Later, I said (well, screamed-said), “Tell me: What’s the first reason on the long list of many given for attacking Iraq?”
Hank shuffled uncomfortably and said, “Well, uh, it was to find WMD, which, I’ll admit, we haven’t found any of yet, but, you never know, they could still find some there.”
Great, I thought; somehow, we’ve managed to stumble across (or be stumbled across by) the very last guy on the planet who’s still hopeful we’ll find something more sinister of Hussein’s than plywood drones or weather balloon trailers.
The strangest part of the whole affair, though, was undoubtedly the appearance of the “Save the fish” guy.
I’d half-noticed him early on -- a short guy in a hat holding a clipboard and wearing glasses through which he dispassionately viewed the proceedings from about two feet away -- but since I was otherwise engaged, I’d not given him much thought.
During an extremely rare lull in the heated exchange, he stepped toward Hank and said, “Would you like to sign my petition?”
Things had now jumped from real surly to really surreal. What was even odder was that Hank, suddenly oblivious to the acrimonious atmosphere, said, “Sure!” This must have struck even the reptilian part of his brain (which, come to think of it, may have been the whole thing) as just a little too incurious, for he swiftly followed with: “Uh, what’s it for?”
“To save the trout in the American River.”
Hank frowned and said, “Nah, man, I don’t wanna sign that.” I immediately imagined a childhood piscatorial trauma of some kind.
A palpable, bizarre shift in the group dynamic had now occurred: Mr. Fish Saver had temporarily united the four of us and emerged as our new common foe. This wasn’t a case of fishism, mind you; it’s just that, couldn’t he see we were having a thoroughly non-productive altercation here?
We (w)all eyed him in stunned amazement.
Our newfound unity quickly dissolved, however, as the petition went unsigned and we refocused on our prior business. Fireworks began anew. After more shouting, cartoon-like visions of me repeatedly charging a brick wall headfirst began filling my noggin; I ducked out of the “discussion” not long after. Within a short while, though, I noticed something that, just minutes before, I’d have deemed impossible: Mark, a naturally tranquil man possessed of an unending store of historical and political knowledge and the gift to impart same via mesmerizing tales and spot-on analogies, was managing to catch Hank’s ear now and then. After a while, our adversary was remaining silent for long stretches of time and appeared to be -- gasp! -- actually listening. Ken began transforming right before my amazed orbs, too; as time passed, he grew calmer, and he and Hank became more civil toward one another. I even heard the phrase “I respect your views, but…” exchanged more than once.
All of which must have been too much for the fish guy. He stepped forward AGAIN and asked: “Does anybody want to sign this petition?”
That was it: I shot him. Nah, not really: I actually poured boiling cod liver oil over his head. (I like themes.) All right, all right: we simply ignored him this time, but I still contend it’s a good thing none of us were armed. (For one thing, “Fish petitioner slain at peace rally” is a headline probably best avoided.)
A little later, he left. Fin-ally. (Sorry.)
The four of us eventually wound down; by that time, at least an hour had passed. The sun had dropped and we were the last ones left out there at 16th and Broadway. Mark had spun his magic web of enthralling truth, getting Hank to back off or concede every single one of his “points” except for: “Hussein was a threat to the U.S.” ReMarkable, considering. Ken had done a good job, too.
The surprises hadn’t quite ended, though. As Mark and I were heading to my truck, Ken and Hank hurriedly passed us on the sidewalk, talking and laughing. We asked where they were going.
“To get a beer!” they said, and then crossed the street. Mark and I looked at each other and just shook our heads (but in a good way), because we both knew the encounter could have easily turned violent at the start. Fortunately, the day had been won by extreme patience, incredible persistence, and oodles of facts (courtesy of Mark and, later in the fray, Ken; I held onto my bad cop badge throughout).
It had almost been like conducting an experiment as we all watched Hank retreat time and again when confronted with cold logic presented (ultimately) warmly. He was like a GOP talking points-spewing clone; his disjointed assertions had no foundation. They all crumbled easily like so much, uh, easily-crumbled stuff.
By definition, anyone who defends Bushco is a few sardines short of a catch, so the fact that Hank’s claims were only so much nothingness is not revelatory. Nonetheless, the episode was still fascinating to observe, in an in-your-face up close and getting very personal sort of way. (Use extreme caution, though, if trying this at home, or on busy street corners.)
What does it all mean, if anything? Who knows? It’s entirely possible Hank didn’t even remember what had transpired when he awoke/came to the next day. But if he did, then maybe, just maybe, a seed had been planted.
In all honesty, I am not newly inspired to try to reason with knuckleheaded Bush supporters (whoops, redundant; sorry). Been there, done that. I am not the patient sort, and could never use the approach Mark initiated and carried off.
But, I’m not Mark, even though, well, I am Mark, but when I say “But, I’m not Mark,” it means I’m not Mark in the sense that... (Ed.: Mark!!)
OK, OK. So, anyway, as I was about to say, before I was (again) rather rudely interrupted (hey, anybody know any available, FRIENDLY editors out there?), Mark’s “taming” of Hank was not only monumentally impressive in and of itself, but also means, even to a cynic like me, that if it’s been done once, it can be done again. If nothing else, as the rolling momentum sparked by Sheehan’s Crawford vigil picks up ever more steam and events unfold, it indicates that those of us who keep actively lending support are likely in line for some very interesting experiences.
Like, for instance, seeing Hank and Ken going off to quaff a pint or eight at the end of the eventful evening which, I swear, really did happen.
Even if it does sound a bit, um, fishy.
Mark Drolette is a political satirist/commentator who lives in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his website address is www.markdrolette.com/. Copyright © 2005 Mark Drolette. All rights reserved.
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