In the chill early morning air on August 24, seven protesters from the Idaho Peace Coalition and Veterans for Peace arrive at the Idaho Center to exercise their rights to free speech. President Bush will appear later that morning. Free speech zone reservations had been made over the phone 48 hours ahead of time, in compliance with the Idaho Center's court-ordered First Amendment activity rules.
There are 11 free speech zones at the Center, all near or in the parking lot. Each zone has a maximum total number of persons allowed (three to six) and a maximum number per organization (two or three). Only 20 total protesters are allowed at any event.
The seven are divided into three groups and taken to their assigned roped-off zones; each zone is about 8 feet by 4 feet. The vets stand in one zone and the military moms in another. One brave person is alone in the third zone.
All the while, thousands of George Bush fans pour into the parking lot and line up with their sleepy-eyed kids dressed in their Sunday best. The slow-moving line snakes first in back then in front of the zones, allowing ample time for ticket holders to read the signs (restricted in size and number) of the protesters. Of course there is no sign explaining why there are only three protesters, so there is much snickering about the poor showing of protesters. A few hundred yards away, outside the Idaho Center property, 150 banner-holding, sign-waving protesters do their bit to greet the folks entering the parking lot.
Military mom Laura McCarthy is surrounded mostly by looks of disgust, heads shaking in disapproval, down-turned thumbs and shouts of "You should be ashamed of yourself," "Do you think your son is proud of you being here?" and "Your son is fighting for your freedom to be standing there!" A lot of people simply ignore the moms with their signs featuring photos of their handsome young sons. A few people offer words of support, and even a few non-supporters are kind enough to respectfully acknowledge their presence and engage in meaningful dialogue.
No one can answer the protesters' question: "Why do you continue to pretend that Iraq posed a threat great enough to justify our invasion and occupation?" After Bush speaks, Laura moves to the sidewalk outside the Center. Surely, Bush must have said something meaningful, something to answer why we invaded Iraq in the first place and why the non-existent 9/11 connection is brought up whenever Bush needs to rally support.
Now, there are few words and an abundance of middle-finger salutes. There Laura stands, the mother of a soldier in Iraq, wanting nothing more than truthful, meaningful answers as to why her son is fighting in a war that is fraught with so many discrepancies and so few concrete and truthful answers. She gets her answer from our president via his less-articulate supporters, in that universal language that is never subject to mispronunciation: "FUCK YOU!"
Liz Paul is a spokesperson for the Idaho Peace Coalition. Laura McCarthy is a military mom from Eagle.