Although U.S. troops have encountered only scattered resistance in southern Iraq and have been warmly welcomed by many Iraqi civilians, U.S. anti-war protesters are waving Iraqi flags, bringing traffic to a halt, and threatening to shut down federal buildings in Austin,TX, the city where President Bush launched his presidential campaign.
Even though anti-war protesters lacked a permit, on Thursday, March 20, the Austin Police Department remarkably blocked off Guadalupe Street for the afternoon and rush hour at the protesters' request. This allowed the anti-war demonstrators to shut down a busy thoroughfare that connects the State Capitol and the University of Texas, even during rush hour.
The result was severe traffic gridlock on parallel streets where traffic was diverted, immobilization of the city bus system, and blocked access to many businesses. I had to walk 20 blocks from the campus to my job at a conservative think thank in downtown Austin because city buses had stopped running.
Speakers at the protest that shut down Guadalupe Street included Bob Jensen, a radical UT professor and Chomsky acolyte, whose own anti-American rantings have been well documented in Front Page Magazine. Just two weeks after 9/11, Jensen wrote a Houston Chronicle op-ed claiming that U.S. military actions, none of which intentionally targeted innocent civilians, were just as bad as the massacres of 9-11.
Organizers of the protest distributed flyers encouraging protesters to get arrested and instructing them to contact attorneys associated with the leftist American Friends Service Committee. The flyer even provides the names and phone numbers of two of these lawyers. Also, Austin news' radio station KLBJ 590 AM reported that many of the protesters were using bongs to smoke marijuana.
While Austin police took no action to quell the protest shutting down Guadalupe Street and actually aided it by blocking off the area from traffic, protesters finally triggered police to act when they attempted to shut down another major thoroughfare, Congress Avenue. About 50 protesters were reportedly arrested and at least one policeman was hit by an object hurled by one rioter.
These protests came on the heels of a similar gathering at the State Capitol on Saturday, March 15. This protest coincided with the Austin's annual South by Southwest music festival and featured a seditious soundtrack of anti-Bush vitriol.
At this protest, the Iraqi flag was proudly waved at the gates to the Capitol grounds, and protesters in suits and Bush masks held signs comparing the Republicans to Nazis and President Bush to Hitler.
Other prominent signs and t-shirts offered such slogans as, "Got Oil? Killing for Profit", "Bush, Israeli Puppet", "Bush Knew" (about 9/11, presumably) and "If we invade Iraq and find no WMDs, do we have to plant some of our own?" Another sign featured a picture of President Bush and asked "Who's the Tyrant with the Bomb?"
The Austin American-Statesman reported that "a leader with at least one anti-war association openly declared from the stage that her group was planning a civil disobedience rally in coming weeks and would attempt to shut down federal buildings in Austin."
At tables bearing the red and black banners of the International Workers of the World and the International Socialist Organization, students sold Marxist pamphlets, and copies of The Socialist Worker.
Leftist Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Molly Ivins ridiculed the President with her usual harangue referring to him as "Shrub." Others speakers included left wing Democrat Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee of Houston and State Representative Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin). Naishtat said that he supports overthrowing Saddam Hussein by force, but quickly won applause from the crowd by claiming that the U.S. has no allies in this war and that Bush "is not the right man for the job."
Sponsors of the protest included the N.A.A.C.P., AFL-CIO, and a variety of local groups, including the "78704 Neighborhood Association." This zip code in South Austin is notorious for being inhabited by affluent aging hippies, including Ivins.
The Austin American-Statesman claimed that 7,000 took part in the demonstration and reported, "a leader with at least one anti-war association openly declared from the stage that her group was planning a civil disobedience rally in coming weeks and would attempt to shut down federal buildings in Austin." This reporter would guess that about half of that number participated, but crowd estimation is an inexact science.
Between acts at the South by Southwest Music showcase on March 14 at the Austin Music Hall, the Capitol protest was promoted from the podium by a speaker who helped organize Woodstock. Congressman Lloyd Doggett also interrupted the show to speak out against war. However, headliner Willie Nelson said nothing about the war and displayed miniature American flags and threw them along with his signature red bandanas to the audience.
Meanwhile, down the road at the University of Houston, one anti-war protester at a March 20 campus "teach-in" against the war received a citation for mooning several "pro-U.S.A." demonstrators.
Charles Ganske, Student Editor of the Austin Review (www.austinreview.com) and a University of Texas History Student, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.