Protester airs views to Cape audience

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sue Niederer encourages conversation and says troops like her son were ill-equipped.

Sue Niederer's first public act in Cape Girardeau was to reach out to those who disagree with her.

As the co-founder of the Gold Star Families for Peace approached the crowd of 120 people at the Osage Community Centre for her speaking engagement Thursday night, she confronted a group of protesters holding signs and asked to discuss the issues with them.

"We should agree to disagree," Niederer told Kevin Kell at the Kingshighway entrance to the community center. Kell held a sign with the words "America: Freeing People Since 1776." He shared a common bond with Niederer -- Kell's son is fighting in Iraq, just as her son, Army Lt. Seth Dvorin, did.

Niederer's son died in 2004, but Kell's son lives on.

Kell was there to support the troops, but Niederer was, too, she said.

"You can't say to me I don't support them," she told Kell. "I don't support the war, but I support the troops. There's a big difference between the two."

Another protester, Army reservist Dru Reeves, held a sign that cut right to the heart. It said "Do Not Dishonor Your Son's Valor."

But Niederer reached out to Reeves, too. In the past Reeves has had confrontations with the group co-sponsoring Niederer's speech, the Southeast Missouri Coalition for Peace and Justice. Another of his signs read "I Was Assaulted by a 'Peace Protester,'" a direct shot at the organization.

Reeves alleges that a protester pulled a knife on him at a past rally, but the protester was not charged.

The anti-war mom took Reeves by the hand and led him into the Osage Community Centre to hear her speech.

Once inside, Niederer delivered a passionate speech following introductory remarks by coalition members Dr. Bob Polack and Emma Franklin. Amid a backdrop of signs with slogans denouncing the war and calling for accountability from the Bush administration, she acknowledged Reeves and other protesters and explained the reason for her presence.

"I don't prepare for these things, I speak from the heart," said Niederer. "But the message is always the same: Bring the troops home safely."

She told the audience of her son's volunteering to go to Iraq, and his reservations about a lack of training and equipment. She berated Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld for not properly equipping the soldiers and lashed out at President Bush for allegedly making light of the missing weapons of mass destruction at a press conference. By doing so, she said the president made light of the deaths of her son and others who died in the war. She was often fiery, often yelling, clearly emotional.

But Niederer didn't hog the floor. Just as she led the protesters in, she also allowed them to speak their minds and debate her position.

Reeves and others asked questions and were sometimes berated and attacked by audience members, behavior Niederer quickly quashed.

At the end, she hugged Reeves and fellow protester Bobby Hunsaker. They agreed to disagree.

As Niederer put it, "This is democracy."

Niederer will speak again at 10 a.m. today at Southeast Missouri State University's University Center.

335-6611, extension 182

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