Rocky Anderson returned to City Hall on Wednesday evening, joined by a couple of thousand like-minded opponents of President Bush and the war in Iraq.
"You are beautiful, Salt Lake City," Anderson shouted over cheers and applause from the crowd outside the Salt Lake City-County Building, gathered for a peace and human-rights rally. "Thank you for standing up. You, who are here today raising your voices for an end to the tremendous abuses of power that are causing so much damage to our nation, are true patriots."
Anderson, the passionate and outspoken former mayor of Salt Lake City, organized the rally to coincide with President Bush's trip to raise funds for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain. He urged the crowd to continue to speak against domestic spying, illegal kidnapping and torture, even after Bush's term ends in January.
"Let us never be silenced," he said. "Let us always stand against wrongdoing. And let us exercise our moral agency in every way we can to build a safer, more peaceful, compassionate world together."
Anderson has made no secret of his abhorrence of actions and policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. While serving as mayor, he spoke at Bush protests and anti-war rallies across the country including in Washington, D.C. and repeatedly has called for Bush to be impeached.
Judging by the turnout at Wednesday's rally, Salt Lakers remain ready to rally around Rocky.
"Anything Rocky does is cool by us," said Chanse Frenette, who hoisted a "SLC loves Rocky" sign at the rally. "He's our voice. He is the only voice we have in this state."
Frenette, a University of Utah student, called the war in Iraq a crime and said the United States should have never gone there in the first place.
"Those of us who knew it in the beginning and voiced our opinions were held down and called unpatriotic," he said, "when in fact we were the most patriotic."
Anderson was joined at the rally by Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked to newspapers classified documents known as the Pentagon Papers, revealing government deceptions about U.S. policy in Vietnam.
"I'm getting a very good impression of the reddest state in the union," Ellsberg said as he looked out over the crowd and the collection of signs filled with harsh words for President Bush. "It looks kind of purple at the moment."
Ellsberg criticized the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress for failing to defend the Constitution, which he said is the reason the U.S. remains mired an a seemingly endless war.
Also speaking at the rally were Marshall Thompson, an Iraq veteran and peace activist who walked the entire state of Utah calling for withdrawal from Iraq and Kathy Snyder, a Utah mother of a serviceman who was killed in Iraq.
"I would really like to have a president who we could invite here, who we could be proud of and say, 'Welcome to our state,'" Thompson said. "But until he changes his polices, until he makes restitution as much as humanly possible, this is the only way we can greet President Bush when he comes to Utah."
Although it was the biggest, the Anderson-organized rally was not the only one tied to Bush's visit. In Park City, more than 100 people gathered for the "Bush Bash Barbecue" at the city park, where they listened to free music and ate free hot dogs at the same time as Bush attended a very expensive, very private reception in Deer Valley.
"I guess you didn't have the $70,000 to go to the party around the corner," said singer Jeff Howry, referencing the fundraiser at the vacation home of McCain-backer Mitt Romney. "I wouldn't go to that party if they paid me $70,000."
As opposed to the Salt Lake rally, the Park City gathering was more like a neighborhood party, and one organizer even insisted it was not anti-Bush.
John Staffholt said the barbecue was meant to celebrate Bush's arrival in town, not to protest his presidency. "It's a bash that doesn't have to be bad," Staffholt said.
But the majority of the folks on the lawn at Park City Park were anti-Bush, with some of them carrying signs protesting his presidency.
One attendee even went so far to say she wished somebody would "knock (Bush) off already."
Carol Silverman said she had a fantasy that Bush was assassinated, then Vice President Dick Cheney died of a heart attack, then former House Speaker Dennis Hastert died, clearing the path for Colin Powell to become president.
"With all the crazy people with guns, I can't believe nobody got to him," said Silverman, who lives in Scarsdale, N.Y., but owns a condo in Park City. "It's just too bad he's still president."
A separate anti-war event took place outside the Salt Lake City Main Library, where the grassroots group MoveOn.org hosted the Bush-McCain Challenge, which was meant to point out the minimal differences between the two men. It was actually part of a national event held Wednesday, and the timing with Bush's visit was coincidental.Since leaving office at the start of this year, Anderson has been pushing for humane change in public policy through his nonprofit foundation, High Road for Human Rights. More information can be found at highroadforhumanrights.org.