Report from the local rally in Butler, PA --by Georgene Gallo

Maybe it wasn’t New York City, but the peace rally in downtown Butler had everything in a microcosm. The 200 or so in attendance were, in fact, part of the nexus of rallies, marches, and protests that spanned the globe on that same day, attracting, by some accounts, more than 30 million people.

It could have been, said some of the speakers, the biggest protest the city of Butler had ever seen. It took place in a "parklet" of statuary, benches, and a frozen fountain, a square across S. Main Street from the Butler County Courthouse. It lasted from 11 am to 1:15 p.m. And while the ambient temperature hovered between 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the selfish blessing in the end was that frozen toes could finally thaw in our cars that were waiting nearby in a big public parking lot.

There were singers, guitar and piano players, drummers, and tambourine shakers who played “interludes,” so-called by the accomplished man who was in charge of the agenda and who led us from a stage made up of particle board over foam. He jumped a lot, literally, to warm himself.

Collectively, the speakers at the Butler rally were surely as knowledgeable and eloquent as any other speakers in any other city of the world that day. There was a woman who, born in Germany but now an American citizen, remembered the Allied bombing during WWII. Her family had the best and biggest bomb shelter in town, and many of the neighbors converged on it during bombing raids. She’ll never forget the endless crying of the little children who were whisked from their beds and brought to the shelter on too many nights.

We have to realize how terrified the children of Iraq will be if war ensues, she said.

Also speaking was a US veteran of several tours in the Gulf War as well as in Bosnia. The military uniform he wore was adorned with countless medals and ribbons. “I support the troops,” he said. Some of those currently deployed are his close friends, in fact. How damned revealing it was when, after all, this veteran proved by far to be, that day, the most ardent opponent of the bush doctrine of a new world order. “Don’t believe anything they say,” this veteran cautioned.

There were a number of professors from local universities. One man who was born in Italy and became a US citizen only two years ago spoke with passion about the wrong path that the bush administration is taking. It’s a global policy that makes him suddenly ashamed, he said.

A business owner spoke about his wide travels throughout Europe in November of 2002. His overseas clients treated him “gingerly” at first, he said, because he was an American. But in every country, as soon as he declared his disdain for george bush, his hosts opened up, suddenly welcoming him and trusting him.

Ministers and seminarians spoke out, invoking the God of peace over bush’s god of war.

It truly happened that the rally in Butler, PA, had an abundance of speakers who can be called citizens of the world. It truly happened that the crowd represented the young, the old (a woman with a cane had a sign for which she was complemented that said: Stop the Moron), those who had never protested before, those who are becoming accomplished at protesting, and mostly, those who think bush is out of control. One of the speakers called him G(ulf) W(ar) bush. The remark generated long and loud applause as did every use of the word impeach.

Citing it as a truism that might have been coined by Yogi Berra (we laughed through our tears), one speaker said, “children are dying in Iraq who never died before.” It’s true that more children than ever before are dying, month after month, in Iraq. They are dying of starvation. They are dying when medicines and other health care remedies are unavailable. They are dying from leukemia and other cancers that are now of epidemic proportions in Iraq, and many think that the likely cause is the depleted uranium that still encases the US weapons of mass destruction--the bombs, missiles, and bullets that rained down on Iraq during the first Gulf War.

The rally was within minutes of its end when a truck sailed by on Main Street. “Love it or leave it, baby,” screamed the driver. American flags stuck out of the truck in four or five niches. Some of the peaceful protesters, out of context, yelled expletives back that modified the term “redneck.” The man drove around the block again and tried to incite more anger, but he didn’t succeed.

How could he have? Even the Butler police weren’t worried about a disturbance of the peace. They sent one squad car to cover the rally. And that one car left early.

It wasn’t New York, but the rally in Butler had everything in miniature.

Georgene Gallo
February 17, 2003