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Finally! A Peace Rally To Cheer

by ALLAN TURNER Monday, Mar. 03, 2003 at 3:22 PM

Thousands rally in support of Bush Houston crowd hears politicians, veterans praise president's Iraq policies

Houston Chronicle
March 2, 2003

Cheering, chanting and waving flags, thousands jammed shoulder-to-shoulder into downtown Houston's Jones Plaza on Saturday to hear politicians, soldiers and entertainers praise God, America and President Bush's firm stand against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The ostensibly nonpartisan "Rally for America," sponsored by talk radio station KPRC, quickly turned into a spirited affirmation of Bush's policies. Speakers included House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land; House Deputy Whip Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and City Councilman Michael Berry.

The only speaker who was opposed to military intervention in Iraq, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, was greeted with some boos as she stepped onto the stage midway through the two-hour rally. She and her party later were led from the plaza under protective police guard.

KPRC spokeswoman Melissa Brezner said 8,000 to 10,000 people attended the event. "This is not antiwar and it's not pro-war. It's not leaning either way," she said as the event began at noon.

A similar rally drew an estimated 7,000 people to the tiny town of Selma, north of San Antonio on Saturday. That rally attracted war veterans, relatives of military personnel and others who said they are fed up with people who oppose possible war in the Persian Gulf.

About 3,000 people attended a Feb. 16 antiwar rally at Eleanor Tinsley Park. The event, sponsored by Houston Coalition for Justice Not War, was the biggest in a series of recent protests of Bush's policies on Iraq.

"What a wonderful hostile crowd," retired Air Force Maj. Ellis Buchanan said in greeting Saturday's audience. "What a wonderful hostile conservative crowd."

Warning that "freedom is not everlasting, nor is it guaranteed," Buchanan, a Vietnam veteran, told his audience that the United States is the only nation with the power and ability to "bring some balance and peace in this world."

In calling for a resolute stand in Iraq, he noted that the Vietnam War was "an ugly war, a sad war."

"Politicians got scared," he said. "They blinked, hesitated and thousands died in vain."

Berry -- his speech frequently interrupted by cheers -- recounted how City Council last week rejected resolutions opposing war with Iraq. As many as 100 city governments had passed such measures, Berry said, adding that war opponents believed such municipal debates were good to let people "express their feelings."

"The good people of Houston did not send me to City Hall to conduct group therapy," Berry said. "Houston was the first major city to vote down and reject these antiwar resolutions and the professional protesters who travel around to organize them. Let's hope other cities will follow Houston's lead."

DeLay told the crowd that President Bush is "fighting principle battles and he's not backing down. He's a Texan."

The United States, he said "is showing the world the power of strong, moral leadership. And, I'm here to tell you the majority of Congress stands behind the president. ...

"This country isn't going to sit around waiting for terrorists to draw up plans for their next attack. We're going to move heaven and earth to get to them first, and that's what we're going to do. ... I think George Bush is president for a reason."

DeLay lambasted "apostles of appeasement," and assured the crowd that the United States would not submit its foreign policy to an "international litmus test."

Jackson Lee, who has gone on record opposing military action in Iraq, was greeted with a mix of cheers and boos as she approached the podium. She told the crowd that she was pleased it had showed her "what Americans are made of."

Her speech was brief, and consisted primarily of telling her audience she hopes "God blesses America."

"I take your opposition with respect and acceptance," she said. "I come today to share with you that I, too, am an American and that I love this country."

She then was drowned out by the crowd's chant of "USA! USA! USA!"

As she returned to her seat, the audience began chanting, "Bush! Bush! Bush!"

Jackson Lee, a recently appointed member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, then returned to the microphone to invite the audience to a Sunday "day of prayer for America and peace" at the Gulf Meadows Church, 8012 Fuqua.

Saturday's rally was plagued by a faulty sound system, and some members of the audience later said that they had been unable to hear the speakers. The audience filled the downtown plaza, and spilled onto the sidewalk.

Chris Beckstead of Spring said he and his friends had remained for the entire rally, even though they couldn't hear most of it.

"This is the first one we've been to for any reason," he said. "We had a lot of feeling. Whether we could hear or not, we just wanted to support the cause."

Those attending the rally waved U.S. flags -- the radio station gave away at least 2,500 -- and waved placards bearing such slogans as "Saddam Kiss My Gashole," "Want Peace? Kill Saddam!" and "Iraq First, Then France." Many rally participants wore U.S. flag-patterned clothing; some had flags painted on their faces.

"I loved it," Vietnam-era veteran Mike Palmquist said as the rally ended. "I thought it was a nice counterpoint to the idiots who think nothing matters because they stand for nothing."

Michael Hambright, an ex-Marine and one of few blacks in the crowd, said he believed the rally achieved its goal by demonstrating public support for the troops.

He likened Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler in pre-World War II Europe, and said the United States has "given peace a chance."

"Now," he said, "I think it's time for a different method."

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