With thousands chanting his name and offering calls of "Rocky for President!" Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson implored Utah residents today to take back the title of patriot and demand greater accountability from elected officials.
Anderson, who spoke for roughly 40 minutes under a hot noonday sun at Washington Square downtown, told demonstrators to speak up about their discontent with President Bush, who is to arrive tonight in advance of his speech Thursday to the American Legion.
"This is a new day. We will not be silent," Anderson said. "We will continue to resist the lies, the deceptions, the outrages of the Bush administration and this complacent, complicit, go-along Congress.
"We will insist that peace be pursued, and that, as a nation, we help those in need. We must break the cycle of hatred, of intolerance, of exploitation. We must pursue peace as vigorously as the Bush administration has pursued war."
Anderson shook hands with supporters and offered hugs to enthusiastic audience members. He responded to cries of "Rocky, Rocky, Rocky" with smiles and wave to the crowd of roughly 4,000.
Anderson listed his version of Bush's "propaganda" in advance of the Iraq War, including the now-disproved assertion that Iraq had the capability to make nuclear weapons. The mayor also attacked the mainstream media for being what he called "a bulletin board for the lies and propaganda of a manipulative, dishonest federal government."
"We have been getting just about everything but the truth on matters of life and death, on matters upon which our nation's reputation hinges, on matters that directly relate to our nation's most fundamental values, and on matters relating to the survival of our planet," Anderson said.
Participants, who began gathering around City Hall shortly after 10 a.m., carried banners calling for Bush's impeachment and to "stop the killing." Others waved American flags. An individual dressed as a large caricature of Bush walked through the throngs with red hands, which he said represented the blood on the president's hands for those who have died in Iraq.
After Anderson's speech, the protesters flooded State Street in a march to the Federal Building. They walked on the east side of the road, blocking downtown traffic for blocks.
Several blocks east at Liberty Park, about 200 gathered for a "Freedom Rally" in support of the troops in Iraq.
One military mother hoped that the "Support Our Rally" cry heard at Liberty Park is more than just words.
Cathie Costanzo, who moderates an online support group for military families and whose son only recently returned from active duty, attended because of its focus on the soldiers. Last year she went to an anti-war protest, but felt that this one was closer her beliefs.
"This isn't about the politicians. It's about the men and women who are being activated," she said. "We need to remember to help them and their families."
For the most part, the people at the rally heard patriotic speeches about the sacrifices of soldiers, with the only partisan speech coming in the form of a couple of attacks on Mayor Anderson.
"This event was set up to forget our partisan politics," said Paul Holton, the rally organizer known as Chief Wiggles. "We wanted to show the world that we are unified in our support of the troops. Today is the day for us to show our patriotism."
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff took the strongest shots at Anderson, saying he "supports his right to be stupid but not to hurt other people." He said the best thing the rally could do was remind families who have lost loved ones in the war that there are people who appreciate their sacrifice.
The American Legion was well represented. Two of their national leaders spoke to the crowd.
"We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible," said Ronald Conley, American Legion post national commander. "But as long they are putting their lives on the line we must stand with them and support them."
Protesters began gathering early today. Offering a quick counter to the "Death to Israel" rally, a dozen or so people stood on one of downtown's busiest streets this morning waving Israeli flags.
The informal group had been at the corner of state street and 400 South since 7 a.m., counter protester Scott Bowman said.
"There's been lots of people honking and giving the thumbs up and waving," he said.
Across the street Robert Breeze was setting out cardboard and paintbrushes for people to write anti-Israeli messages. He spent $36 on 80 feet of cardboard that was still in his van at 10:30 a.m.
"We just got started," he said. "We've got all day."A pro-Bush reception is scheduled tonight to welcome Bush when he lands at the Utah Air National Guard base. And, a pro-Bush rally is planned from 5-8 p.m. at Washington Square.
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Contributing: Joe Bauman
Contributing: Joe Bauman