A slight 13-year-old standing at the edge of the throng, Rachel Stromness looked a little out of place at an anti-war rally.
But, despite her youth and the peace signs scrawled on her cheeks, she was serious about why she attended a march and rally Saturday protesting the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf."I want my dad back," she said.
Her father, an Air Force pilot stationed out of McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, has been flying a cargo plane in the Middle East since September. The last time Rachel spoke to him was just before Thanksgiving.
"He would have been released today (Dec. 8). But they gave him a three-month extension. It's stupid and pointless to fight for oil."
More than 1,000 other demonstrators agreed. Shouting, "No blood for oil" and "Hell no, we won't go, we won't fight for Texaco," they marched from the State Capitol Building and down State Street to the Federal Building. Organizers say it was the largest protest in downtown Salt Lake City in more than 10 years.
The three-hour demonstration began at 11 a.m. in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the west lawn of the Capitol. "We chose the memorial because we don't want any more memorials here," said Greg Rosenberg, an oil company employee and co-chair of the Coalition Against a U.S. War in the Middle East, which sponsored the protest.
After a few speeches, the crowd marched to the Federal Building, where more speeches and singing took place before a responsive gathering that thinned as the demonstration wore on.
Protest songs of the '60s and the scent of marijuana and patchouli oil occasionally wafting through the cold air provided a touch of deja vu, some said. But faces of those reminiscing had certainly aged.
While the majority of the participants were college age, a good number were middle-aged parents who opposed Vietnam in the 1960s and now brought their offspring to Saturday's demonstration.
"I feel like I am walking in my mom and dad's footsteps," said 13-year-old Jennifer Smith, whose mother brought her, Rachel and two other classmates from Evergreen Junior High to participate.
Another reason for Jennifer attending was that she doesn't want anyone to relive what her father went through in Vietnam, where he was exposed to the defoliant, Agent Orange.
Several Vietnam veterans and others representing churches, universities, political organizations and peace groups encouraged the marchers by noting that similar protests brought troops home from southeast Asia. And they warned that the government is deceiving the people again by not declaring the main reason for being in the Middle East: oil.
"If they exported blueberries out of the gulf, we wouldn't be there," said the Rev. Thomas Goldsmith of First Unitarian Church. "This is crazy. We are preparing for a war that not even Henry Kissinger wants to fight . . . not even former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff . . . not Congress nor most people in the nation."
Rosenberg and others of the coalition were surprised by the large turnout. "We expected about 300," he said. "It just shows how many people feel the same way we do."
And while no one there appeared to support President Bush's handling of the Persian Gulf crisis, some driving by didn't like what they saw.
One man stopped his car, rolled down the window and yelled at least one obscenity at the crowd. But no one responded and he drove off.