Organizers of the March 20 Crawford, Texas Peace Rally wanted to broaden their line up from the usual antiwar sources to include clergy, antiwar military veterans and their families, and yes, even an antiwar Republican.
It was for the latter reason that I was one of the few, if not only Republican Party speakers at one of the hundreds of March 20 anti-Iraq War rallies held world wide, marking the one year anniversary of the US invasion. Reached through my role as an unofficial advisor to the Texas Republican Liberty Caucus and as one of the half dozen co-founders of the national RLC in 1990, I told rally organizers that while I wasn’t currently much of a Republican, I was willing to speak out on this issue. My efforts to find a more credentialed Texas Republican, or line up outspoken Texas libertarian Republican Congressman Ron Paul proved fruitless as Cong. Paul’s schedule was set and no other GOP volunteers could be immediately located.
With my longtime Texas RLC activist colleague Lonnie Brantley, I departed from Houston early Saturday for the 250 mile trip to Crawford, located just five miles west of Waco and a few miles from President Bush’s small ranch in the low limestone hills of central Texas. We changed from our road clothes into our Republican uniforms- mine slacks, dress shirt and conservative tie- a few miles from Waco and wondered what to expect. The rally was competing with marches in Austin, Dallas and Houston and faced overcast, slightly humid air. The Crawford event was co-sponsored by four Austin, Waco and Dallas area peace and leftist coalition outfits, along with the local Green Party, which was looking forward to an appearance by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader at the event.
We arrived about noon at picturesque Tonkawa Falls Park, located a mile from Crawford, to the sight of approximately 200 people in a pleasant outdoor locale, about fifty yards from an equally sized group of Texas chili cook-off fans, most of whom were of vastly different political persuasions.
My arrival at the rally as the most overdressed person in sight was not encouraging. I was handed fistfuls of incomprehensively written broadsheets on various subjects, and bombarded with strains of an off-key badly mic ed folksinger, warbling something along the lines of how happy we’ll beee, when Keer-rreey is in the White House, sounding even worse than you might imagine.
I received wary glances as I wended my way to the media center, being mistaken for a Homeland Security spy or local narc perhaps, though the narcs around were likely not wearing ties. The crowd was roughly two hundred or more, with the demographic being 80% above age 30, probably the reverse of the demographic of antiwar rallies I experienced 30 years ago. The usual protest rally stereotypes were in evidence: the masked Nixon character on stilts (couldn’t they freshen this up a bit?), a psychedelic painted bus (a real 60s cliché), a large blue UN flag (!), banners from Vets Against the War, pale cadaverous socialists trying without much success to flog the Militant tabloid, and fuzzy headed guys in khakis covered in buttons wearing odd hats. One short fellow was dressed in a pseudo military uniform that made him look a bit like a munchkin generalissimo…maybe that was his intention. One polite white haired woman, festooned with buttons and a plastic boater hat, looked much like her counterparts at Texas Republican events, except of course for the messages on her buttons.
Despite efforts at diversity, the crowd was nearly all Anglo with just a few blacks and a small Hispanic contingent, some of whom were selling Che Guevara and Zapata tee shirts dangling from coolie-like pole shoulder racks, also without much luck. The audience was at least half female and mostly yuppie or liberal looking, gone to seed a bit with age and paunch. But unlike protests of old, the faint smell of illegal substances was not detected, perhaps due to the visible presence of police cars on the roads (for the later march into Crawford) and uniformed cops strolling by every so often. Relatively few children or college age people. One organizer lamented to me that his 23 year-old son was apathetic about politics.
The remaining warm up music was earnest but uniformly unlistenable; another reminder of what politics usually does to art.
I hooked up with my PR minder who steered me to a Dallas Morning News reporter and later, a Waco NBC TV reporter, both of whom did professional interviews with me, asking why a Republican was here speaking, etc. I doubt if any was aired or printed, since the Crawford event was peaceful and didn’t generate much publicity outside of Texas. Bush wasn’t around either. There were also Japanese and Spanish TV crews present, who were interested in filming the actual march into Crawford and didn’t seem to be paying attention to any of the speakers.
The line-up began with a group of local Methodist and Baptist ministers, one of whom gave a lengthy opening prayer. There was another subsequent lengthy spiritual moment of silence from another speaker, making the religious formalities of this event competitive with many Republican events I’ve attended. Oddly, no Catholic priests were on hand, and when I mentioned this to rally organizers they just shrugged. Although the Pope is openly anti-Iraq War, I got the impression that he was as unpopular here as Bush despite the papal stance on the war. A missed opportunity it seemed.
By the time my five minute presentation came up, things were already running behind as is usual at these things. Preceding speakers rambled on with earnest but fairly boring tirades about the war, its evilness, the badness of Bush, etc. There were Democrats, Greens, immigrant rights advocates, the ACLU, antiwar leftists of various stripes, and of course me, the symbol of the Hated Enemy. Well known leftist journalism professor Robert Jensen of the University of Texas gave me a nice, brief eloquent introduction as I stepped up to face what was now about 300 people sitting in a wide semi-circle.
Hello fellow Republicans! I boomed. A couple of seconds of stunned, nervous silence, anybody? The crowd quickly relaxed into a rumble of laughter, releasing a tension which I knew was there. I banged out a few other lines which involved audience participation, began to draw more laughs and at times some genuine applause and hoots. I hit a few themes, such as the existence of a large number of unhappy and angry conservatives and Republicans who were blindsided by the President’s unconvincing Iraq invasion rationale. You are surrounded by them, out over there in Crawford, in Waco, and all over Texas, you know, conservative Republicans who voted for Bush but didn’t get what they thought they were voting for. These are the people you have to reach with your message.
Bush either lied about WMD in Iraq, or he was stupid. In either case it is unacceptable to vote for him again, starting a war on that basis. This set off a brief competition over whether it was liar or stupid , but in any event the audience got the point. My five minutes was quickly up.
I wrapped up with some good applause. It went over well because I got their attention and had decent stage presence, unlike most of the speakers who ranted or rambled or lapsed into predictable clichés.
Several in the crowd afterward approached me and I was able to discuss Ron Paul and the heroic work of Antiwar.com to several activists who seemed surprised at small government libertarian Republican activism of any sort. One well dressed Pakistani immigrant from Dallas was particularly appreciative, I think being glad that I seemed relatively normal compared to the majority of the culturally left audience. He was particularly concerned with the Patriot Act.
Of the other speakers, particularly impressive was Shannon Sharrock of Military Families Speak Out, herself a recently retired wounded Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot whose military husband is currently flying helicopters in Iraq. Her comments were heartfelt and simple. Along with a few vets and clergy, she was able to avoid the burden of culturally left rhetoric which makes usual antiwar stuff so hard to swallow for average Americans, even when skeptical of government war propaganda.
Nader wasn’t scheduled to arrive until after the parade, and Lonnie and I left before then. More people arrived as the parade began to form up, from caravans following Dallas and Austin rallies. News accounts claimed 800 to 1,000 marchers, though that seems high to me.
As we drove out through Crawford, which consists of a highway crossroads with a dozen buildings along the road, we spied a half dozen counter protesters with an American flag and pro-Bush signs. There were we support our troops and we support Bush banners on a couple of local stores, the largest of which looks like it does good business selling Crawford and Bush trinkets.
After shedding my GOP uniform down the road and digging into obligatory Texas road trip food chicken fried steak and Dairy Queen goodies at small towns on the trip back, Lonnie and I pondered ways to overcome the cultural divide between left, right and middle.
If the meat eating chili heads and vegan peaceniks sharing the Crawford park on March 20 were somehow able to share their common fears, disappointments, bewilderment and horror over the un-American doctrine of neo-imperialism in Iraq and elsewhere, those policies would soon be a dead letter.
Somehow the divide and conquer strategy of the War Party must be overcome. Perhaps my Republican presence in Crawford on March 20 was a small start.
Mike Holmes is a long time libertarian political activist and practicing CPA from Houston, Texas.