As President Bush presented his arguments for a war on Iraq, more than 2,000 Madison residents skipped the broadcast to gather at the Orpheum Theatre and protest an attack.
The theater was filed above capacity Tuesday night for speeches, skits and songs in protest of U.S. involvement in Iraq. The event was so packed that hundreds waiting outside for admittance were turned away.
Orpheum manager Brock Kilgore said he turned 200 people away due to concerns about fire safety after 2,000 protestors filled the theater. He said auditorium capacity is 1,750.
Head usher Norm Olson said they had not anticipated such a large crowd.
People stood in the back aisles of the theater while others sat at the restaurant tables in the lobby.
"What's going on in there?" asked Madison resident Ann Beal, who sat down with a dinner menu after not finding a seat inside.
Within the stuffy theater, the packed auditorium of protestors chanted "No attack on Iraq" and "If so, not in our name." They sang protest songs and repeated the lyric "bullshit" throughout Oscar Brown Jr.'s performance of the song of the same name about the government's stance on Iraq. Elected officials and mayoral candidates recited a pledge of resistance near the end of the program.
Mayoral candidate Bert Zipperer said he came to the rally because a war in Iraq would not benefit anyone.
"We can't kill people there without hurting ourselves," he said.
He said he was not surprised at the huge turnout for the event and did not care about missing the State of the Union address because it was "all lies anyway."
"This is the State of the Union right here," Zipperer said. "This is what Madison is about."
Not all Madison residents wanted to skip the president's speech to protest at the Orpheum. University of Wisconsin College Republican vice chair Ben Krautkramer said he watched Bush's address and was pleased with it as a whole.
"I thought it was a very forward-looking State of the Union Address. Overall, I thought he had a very positive tone, and I was impressed by his assertiveness," Krautkramer said.
UW senior Maggie Anderson, on the other hand, said she skipped the broadcast because she thought she would get too frustrated.
"I'm here educating myself instead," she said. "But I don't think I'll find the friend I was supposed to meet in this crowd."
Other UW students passed by the theater and decided to stop in and see what was going on. UW senior Caryl Pagel said she was amazed at the number of people in protest.
Orpheum employee Tony Liske also stopped in to check it out and said he has never seen the Orpheum so full, even for concerts.
Stop the War! member and UW freshman Josh Healey said he thinks the large crowd is representative of the near-majority of U.S. citizens who he says oppose a war on Iraq.
"We're not a small fringe that can be easily discounted," Healey said. "There are old guys, little kids, students and veterans here, and a lot are just now beginning to become aware."
Musician John Kiefer stood in the lobby with his guitar, singing peace songs as the crowd filed in. He said he wrote lyrics that day based on John Lennon's "Imagine" for the protest.
"Imagine that we stopped war on Iraq, we took the clock and turned it back, imagine all the people with love," he sang.
The protests were originally scheduled for Jan. 29 to coincide with Dick Cheney's visit, which was canceled for security reasons.
© 2003 Badger Herald