The Liberals on the March in Spokane
Published on Sunday, December 15, 2002 by the Los Angeles Times
The Liberals on the March in Spokane
by Peter H. King

SPOKANE, Wash. -- They came marching up Main Street behind a blue banner covered with the word "peace" in many languages. There were at most 150 of them, and the carols they sang as they shuffled through downtown often were drowned out by the din of passing traffic.

The turnout was only about half what the march organizers had anticipated. They blamed the weather. Earlier in the day, Spokane had received its first snow of the season, and now it was raining -- a cold drizzle that snuffed out the little candles the marchers carried.

This was last Tuesday evening. The sidewalk procession was one of more than 100 peace demonstrations across the nation. By virtue of some backward logic, I had come looking, not for opponents, but for supporters of a preemptive invasion of Iraq.

Since people wary about war keep popping up in unlikely places -- the Petroleum Club of Midland, Texas, and at the very edge of ground zero in Manhattan -- it seemed to follow that a peace march might flush out some hawks.

So I followed along, studying the reactions of people in the path of the march. There weren't many to study. Downtown Spokane on a wet Tuesday night in December, it soon became clear, does not offer much in the way of a throbbing street life.

In the second block, though, a man neatly dressed in a blazer and tie emerged from a brick building just as the front edge of the procession arrived. The protesters were singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and carrying the usual signs: "No Blood for Oil," "No U.S. Global Domination" and the like.

This man, a 43-year-old consultant from Portland, Ore., named David Newhouse, leaned against a wall and watched, wearing an expression I mistook at first for a bemused smirk.

So what did he think about it all?

"I think it's refreshing," he said. "It's refreshing to see people come out and say something that is not the party line. Since Sept. 11 it seems like everybody in this country is jumping on the bandwagon and not saying anything about the fact that our U.S. foreign policy has a lot to do with how much they hate us in the first place."

Newhouse, who had been on his way to dinner, stayed until the last straggler was gone, seemingly fascinated by the scene. Spokane, he noted, had a reputation in the Pacific Northwest for being "fairly redneck. And so to see a peace rally here on a cold and rainy weekday night is really great. Amazing."

The marchers, as one of the organizers put it, had the look of "the usual suspects." There were a few young parents who carried toddlers in backpacks. There were a few teenagers. Most, however, were older folks, some as long in hair as they were in years.

"Greenpeace people" is how Aaron MacDonald described them. "You know what they are going to say without even having to ask them."

He was standing beneath the eaves of a bank building where he works as a maintenance supervisor. He was 29 years old, tall, with short hair and a lean face. He wore a cowboy-looking duster and a backward baseball cap. He would not be mistaken for a Greenpeace person.

And yet ...

"How do I feel about the war?" he said, repeating the first question. "You mean, whether we should invade or not? I think no. Not unless there is an absolute threat, we shouldn't go in there. The Soviet Union had 40,000 missiles aimed at us and we never invaded them. I think we only pick on people weaker than us.

"And," he added, to make the record clear, "I don't consider myself a liberal, even."

We talked about the polls, and the numbers they produce indicating strong support for the war. That's not what he'd encountered. Most people he knew didn't talk about the war much, but those who did were ambivalent at best.

"I don't know anybody," MacDonald said, "who is gung-ho about it."

He remembered the Gulf War, a decade earlier.

"It was different in '91," he said. "In '91 I was living down in Long Beach and on this one corner there were about 60 protesters out every day. People were always pulling off the road and going over and telling the protesters that they were wrong.

"You don't see that here," he said, nodding toward the marchers. "You don't see anybody hassling them at all."

The march covered eight blocks, moving past pawnbrokers, department stores, family restaurants. Shoppers tended to give the procession a glance and then slip into the next store. The diners rarely noticed the passing parade. At the public library, three shaggy fellows pointed and gawked from a third-floor window. Here and there a motorist honked. That was about it for unsolicited public reaction.

At the federal courthouse, the march paused and a speech from an old-timer began. MacDonald, I noticed, had trailed along. He stood at the edge of the crowd, keeping his distance, but listening. As the address dragged on -- "Let's move to Article 15: Everybody has the right to freedom of thought ... " -- he finally drifted away.

The rain was falling harder now. The walk back to the starting point was done almost at a dogtrot, with some marchers beginning to peel off along the way. Most of them, though, held ranks and kept up with their caroling.

Halfway back they encountered big James Holybee, 64, a retired carpenter dressed for the rain in a hooded yellow slicker. Despite the hood, raindrops kept splattering against his horn-rim glasses. He moved haltingly with a cane.

He had come to Main Street to pay a bill, but the protesters were blocking his path to the mailbox.

The marchers were singing "Silent Night."

He yelled at them.

"To hell with regime change, that's what I say."

He didn't mean he was against the war. He just didn't want any euphemistic dilly-dallying around.

"Iraq is nothing but a terrorist regime," he said, "and all Saddam wants is to take over the world and destroy it. We should have taken him out the first time, I will say that. He's a murderous terrorist."

How did he think the war would go?

"If we go over there and hit them hard," he said, "we could get him out of there soon enough."

What did he think of the peace march?

"Not much," Holybee said flatly. "I don't approve of it. I'm a conservative and a Republican. I am not a liberal."

He ticked off the names of half a dozen conservative talk radio shows and suggested anyone truly interested in what Americans think about this war business should give them a listen.

The last few marchers were moving past, singing "Joy to the World."

"Get rid of Saddam," Holybee shouted at them, waving his cane as if to shoo them along.

And then he made his way to the mailbox, deposited his bill payment and limped into the night.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times