Two wolves and a sheep

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

A writer infiltrates Cape's one and only protest group, the SEMO Coalition for Peace and Justice

Some old guy who is probably long dead once said, "As long as there is man there will be war." 

I think that it can also be said as long as there is war there will be war protesters.

With that in mind I took in the July 20 demonstration at Capaha Park, which was organized by the Southeast Missouri Coalition for Peace and Justice. Armed with my digital recorder and fountain soda, I informed them that I wasn't a participant but an observer for OFF. This made the SEMOCPJ leadership squirm a little.

"Well, what are you going to write about", one woman asked.

I replied, "The protest, the people involved, their thoughts, my observations."

Besides, I thought, I don't see local radio or TV covering this. OFF might be the only acknowledgment you're gonna get.

But I didn't say it, I just thought it. So after that initial breaking of the ice things were alright.

You might not know their official name but you have seen them out there. While not the largest demonstration it was definitely the most peaceful, unlike ones that are viewed on 57 channels. There were no rehearsed chants or megaphones; the SEMOCPJ members simply stood there holding their signs with the hope that just their presence was enough. In fact, the only people who were the least bit unruly were the ones driving by, flipping off the protesters.

I asked one demonstrator what she thought about that and she replied simply, with no hint of malice or sarcasm, "that's their right."

Right about that time two or three more motorists passed and honked their horns in approval. The people driving through the corner of Broadway and West End were not the only divided ones; so were some of the protesters themselves.

Sure, they were united in their belief that the Iraq War has gone on far too long, that the United States shouldn't be there, etc., but I wanted to peel back a few layers and gauge just how different these individuals were from each other. On the one hand you had the non-violent waitress who had never held a firearm in her life standing right next to a political science club member who was proud to be a gun owner. Down the way there was a man who looked as though he walked right out of 1967 alongside a Vietnam veteran. 

The vet told me, "I'm like Switzerland -- neutral but armed."

The hippie, for lack of a better term, even told the veteran that most people from his day treated returning soldiers like trash and that he was sorry for it.

Some of them thought Saddam Hussein was a terrible leader who needed to be ousted while a few more went as far as to say that Hussein "kept things stable." 

All of them agreed that he gassed Kurds back in the 1980s ... with nerve agents we supplied to him for his ill-fated war against Iran. One gentleman who looked like a menacing Quaker began asking me questions, though, before I could answer him he would fire another one at me. Just as I was about to wrap it up with him he says, "Here, hold this."

Within seconds, as the Quaker was getting another sign from a stack, I found myself no longer the observer but the observed. Like it or not, regardless of my own beliefs or even my stated purpose for attending, there I was -- drafted; not by "the man" but by a group who in the course of an hour warmed to me. So in the final moments of the demonstration I stood there with tape rolling, drinking my watered-down soda, my own opinions differing a little from their own, absorbing the blaring car horns of support and the middle fingers of disgust.

It was not so bad, really. When it was all said and done I learned that these were not attention starved baby-boomers who had been doing this their whole lives. 

A lot of them weren't even radical left-wingers who are opposing war itself ... just the current one.

These were not practitioners of democracy but of liberty, exercising their freedom to fly right in the face of the government to express their contempt. As the event was winding down I again spoke to the Vietnam veteran who quoted Benjamin Franklin; "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep debating what they are going to eat. Liberty is a well-armed sheep taking exception to the outcome of the vote."

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