Not the Usual Suspects

The crowd at Patriots Square Park resembled that at a Stones concert

Charlie Collins wouldn't shut up about how much he hates Mexicans. A crowd within the crowd at Patriots Square Park downtown was gathering around and jeering him, despite the fact that he held a placard telling George W. Bush to: "Go Straight to Hell Instead of Iraq."

The 59-year-old Tucson developer told a TV reporter, "I'm here to tell you that the fucking INS is the cause of a lot of our problems in this country. They're letting these fucking people come over the border and overcrowd all our hospitals and schools, take jobs away from good Americans. I nearly killed a whole family of 'em as I was driving over to this peace rally. Ran right out in front of my car on Seventh Avenue."

The reporter gave up on trying to get the lifelong Republican (he cast his first presidential vote for Barry Goldwater in 1964) to talk about why he opposed a war in Iraq. He just scowled when she asked him if he thought the president should "give peace a chance before he resorts to armed intervention." The camera guy had stopped shooting film, but Charlie continued: "I mean, here's Bush doing absolutely nothing about these beaners turning us into a Third World country, and he wants to invade a Third World country. It'd make more sense to invade Mexico."

A couple of young anarchists standing nearby started yelling menacingly at Collins, and it looked for a minute like one of them might take his head off. You know how it is when you're a 21-year-old guy; you may be part of an organized anti-war group at a peace rally, but you'd like nothing better than to work off some testosterone by bashing in the skull of somebody who reminds you of your father. But just as the kid was about to make his move, Bill Mathers, a retired steel company executive who moved to Paradise Valley from Pittsburgh nine years ago, yelled from the back of the pack.

"That's right, you tell it like it is!"

The anarchists' attention was suddenly focused on Mathers, but the hotheaded one didn't see any point in punching out a geezer. Off to the side, Mathers, 74 (who was wearing a sandwich board with the president's head on a donkey's body on one side and the slogan "Somebody Should Whip Bush's Ass" on the other), said, "While Bush's busy planning his little war, he's letting our country go under economically. This war's going to play hell with the stock market. I can't tell you how much money I've lost already. I haven't voted for a Democrat since Harry Truman, but if I had it to do over, I'd vote for old what's his name [Al Gore]."

Charlie and Bill, who were sporting golf caps from exclusive Arizona country clubs, definitely ain't the usual suspects.

The likes of them were nowhere to be seen when rallies were held after all the votes were certified in Florida and Bush was finally declared president in 2001. The demonstrators at a rally in Los Angeles were mostly old hippies with granny glasses and gray pony tails, Communist party members and college kids. Guys like Collins and Mathers were giving the protesters the finger as they rode by in their cars. Until about a year ago, the peace rallies sprouting up in response to Duh!bya's war rhetoric also tended to attract that kind of crowd. But then, after 9/11, anti-war groups changed their strategy and started trying to attract ordinary Americans to their cause. Nuclear devastation/World War III scare tactics were back-seated by Peace Action and other anti-war groups, in favor of urging a cautious response to the terrorist attacks. A main theme was that counterattacking would spark more terrorism against America. It was even stressed that war is bad for the economy. The strategy seems to be paying off. Organizers of a protest last September 27 outside a fund raiser for Arizona gubernatorial candidate Matt Salmon that was attended by President Bush say demonstrators were a mix of college students, organized lefties, middle-class parents, homeowners and even hawkish conservatives uncomfortable with the idea that the United States might strike first against Iraq.

The Saturday morning crowd at Patriots Square Park, estimated by police at between 1,500 and 2,500, resembled the rabble at the recent Rolling Stones concert at America West Arena. Sure, there were a lot of young people there, but the majority were middle-aged-plus. Some of the gray-heads were university professors and grown-up hippies who protested the Vietnam War back in the day, but a surprising number were the very people who helped put poor, dumb Duh!bya in the White House.

Like Mathers, Richard Coleburn is rethinking that GOP vote nowadays. "When I read the administration's claims that people who don't support going into Iraq are a bunch of freeloading cowards, I get really pissed off," said Coleburn, 47, a roofing contractor from Prescott. "We should never do a first strike. There's no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with September 11. We're not supposed to start fights. I always supported [the war in] Vietnam, and we didn't do that then. That was a fight against Communists. This isn't the same kind of thing. If Bush goes into Iraq without [United Nations] approval, he should be impeached."

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