Peace Rally in Galesburg:

Today’s peaceniks are grayer

By Mike Kroll

It was a cold and breezy yet sunny Sunday afternoon that found an eclectic mix of people gathering in the unlikely location of downtown Galesburg to protest the impending war with Iraq. The meeting was held in the former downtown Pizza Hut that now belongs to Carver Center for Community Action and even the meeting’s organizers were concerned about the potential turnout as they prepared the room. The Knox County Anti-War Peace Coalition was formed to support local opposition to coming U.S. attack on Iraq that many now fear as inevitable. Sunday’s meeting was to be the group’s initial public gathering and solicitation for membership and support.

One of the group’s leaders described themselves as "three feisty post middle-age ladies" and identified the core of this group as Jane Johnson, Mona Tourlentes and Margaret Mitchell. While the influence of these ladies was clear so too was the participation of a number of other local activists who strongly oppose this war. As Johnson described it the meeting was put together and organized quickly; the publicity effort inescapably low-key. An hour prior to the rally’s scheduled start the small cadre of organizers were preparing the room and hoping for a good turnout.

While many might expect a rally such as this to be a principally Democratic response to our Republican president’s blustery insistence on war with Iraq that wasn’t really how the meeting turned out. Sure, one of the busiest workers was Carolyn Porter (who also wears the hat of Knox County Democratic chair) and a number of recognizable area democrats were in attendance—but the group that gathered Sunday was much more than Democratic Party loyalists. There was a good representation of Libertarians, a number of Republicans and many others who aren’t normally political activists.

Over the two-three hours that people gathered at Carver Center I would estimate that upwards of 200 people had been present at one point or another. During the heart of the rally itself I estimated about 150 in attendance. Perhaps what was most notable was who didn’t show up. I looked hard and found only one local elected official at the rally, City of Galesburg Township Supervisor Chris Winick, and her fellow former County Board member and aspirant to the Galesburg City Council Bruce Weik. A self-described pacifist Weik was one of the featured speakers at the rally. Could this rally have been too politically sensitive for other elected officials to risk attending?

Another two age groups were notably absent. While a substantial contingent of college students from Knox and elsewhere participated in the rally there were virtually no area high school students nor any young adults excepting the college students. By and large the crowd tended toward middle-age and greater. When I noted the absence of young people I was reminded that the absence of a draft undoubtedly reduced teen interest. In stark contrast anti-war rallies during the Viet Nam war peace rally were mostly composed of high school and college students and few older adults.

Johnson called the rally to order promptly at the appointed hour by ringing her "liberty bell." She began the rally by setting its tone by sharing the Collation’s slogan, "Dissent makest democracy stronger," and pointedly explaining that this opposition movement is targeted at dissuading President Bush and his hawkish advisors from commencing the war with Iraq. "We support the men and woman of our armed forces and are fearful for their safety and the safety of thousands of civilians who will perish once this war begins."

Mitchell was one of the first panel speakers to get the crowd really fired up as she likened Bush to a king. "We once fought a war to ensure that this country was controlled by the people and not a king and today we need to remind George Bush that the power to wage war rests with American citizens."

Weik explained his pacifist views and announced that he would be protesting war with Iraq each and every Thursday with a vigil in the Public Square. He invited as many others as possible to join him at 6:30pm beginning today. The Public Square is a cold and potentially dangerous place to meet after sundown this time of year and there has already been discussion of moving this protest vigil to Standish Park.

Two Knox economics professors participated on the dais. Roy Anderson, co-author of a textbook on Mideastern politics, briefly described the social, political and religious realities of modern-day Iraq. Anderson’s view is that Iraq is far too complex to expect everything to be wonderful if only Saddam Hussein were removed from power. Anderson believes we must combat the real enemy—terrorism; and that war in Iraq will accomplish little and cost us dearly. Colleague Steve Cohn said that the whole notion of a preemptive war was un-American and would establish a dangerous precedent. Cohn’s fear is especially appropriate as the Bush administration has done little to positively tie Hussein or Iraq to al-Qaeda or even convincingly demonstrate that Iraq continues to possess biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

The rally’s featured speaker, David Campbell, served as a Marine rifleman during the first Gulf war and saw action in Kuwait. Campbell read from a prepared text and explained that the Bush administration’s intent to invade Iraq predated even the 2000 election and had little to do with terrorist actions of September 11, 2001. Campbell showed a copy of the journal Foreign Affairs that contained an article by current National Security Advisor Condoleza Rice proposing a second Iraq war to unseat Hussein published prior to the controversial election. In Campbell’s view Bush and his advisors have simply used the current war on terrorism as an excuse to bolster their case for war with Iraq. His discovery of the Rice article coupled with his own firsthand experiences is what motivates Campbell’s opposition to this war.

"I supported the first Gulf War because I thought at the time we were liberating a subjugated people (Kuwaitis). We were doing the right thing throwing Iraq out of conquered territory but I and many of my fellow troops were absolutely dumbfounded that we were told to stop before totally eliminating Iraq’s military might. It was a terrible mistake to stop when we did but we still inflicted horrendous damage to Saddam’s military machine. Today he has virtually no air force or navy and his army is reduced to a shadow of its former size or might. Compared to 1991 Saddam is a toothless tiger who was all but invisible from the world stage except for the Bush administration’s promotion of him as one of the great evils of our day."

Sitting down with the organizers after the rally it was clear that they were quite pleased. "I thought it was just marvelous," said Tourlentes. "People are really ready to get active in working toward peace. We really wanted to let people know that they are not alone in protesting this war. George Bush seems to think we all exist in one big sack and that all we know about the world is what he chooses to tell us but he is wrong!"

Johnson immediately added, "Well we’ve just got to punch our way out of that sack and let George know that the American people won’t be led like sheep to the slaughter just because it suits him! This rally just goes to show that people really do care and do pay attention and we don’t take war lightly. Our first order of business is to rebel against the Bush administration’s war mongering. We need to connect with the national protest movement and let everyone know that far more Americans oppose this war than anyone yet realizes."

The rally is actually just the initial public step in the coalition’s local efforts. They plan to take out advertisements on local media and hold a local march next Saturday in conjunction with similar marches and rallies nationwide. The group has also put up a website where details of the group’s plans are being posted. The address of that website is and it was up and operational little more than 24 hours after the rally. The group also plans to ask the Galesburg City Council to pass a resolution opposing the war at the February 17th City Council meeting.