CHANHASSEN, Minn. - Under partly cloudy skies and intense sunshine last Wednesday, much of the crowd fell silent, and peripheral activity seemed to stop as a group carrying placards calling for an end to the war in Iraq and the impeachment of President Bush passed in the street.
Some people gave the peace sign and even cheered. Other observers of the Fourth of July parade in Chanhassen were silent. The parade walkers included members of Veterans and Peace and Citizens for Peace, two groups that oppose the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq.
One man watching the parade could not contain himself. Shouting insults at the walkers, like 'Deserters' and 'Losers,' he followed them for about one block.
John Varone, a Chaska resident and president of the Minneapolis chapter of Veterans for Peace, was walking in the parade and commented on the incident several days later.
"He was an embarrassment to himself and to those around him," Varone said. "I felt bad for the citizens that had to watch that man. That was terrible."
But not everybody thought so.
"As he walked back to his spot, some applauded him," remarked one parade observer.
Immediately, several letters to the editor came to Herald's sister newspaper the Chanhassen Villager.
John Bosacker, who was not that man, commented that the protest walk was "disturbing and disappointing." In follow-up correspondence, he described himself as a salesman that loves his God, country and family.
"From my perspective, they were not saying 'We support our troops and bring them home safely,'" he commented. "They were saying 'peace not war,' anti-government, anti-war and anti-President Bush including having President Bush's head mounted on a stick and holding it up in the air! I'm sorry, but how can you and those that make decisions regarding who participates in our parade allow such nonsense to take place?"
He copied the letter to State Rep. Joe Hoppe, Chanhassen Mayor Tom Furlong and Chanhassen Rotary organizer Jeff Anderson.
"It's only because of our country's service men and women that have been willing to die for our freedom that these people can have the freedom to march," he noted. "The protestors' (call them for what they were) specific actions not only defaced our government leaders and our veterans, but also the men and women that are serving."
Two other letters were from individuals in the group. Chante Wolf, the educational outreach consultant for Veterans for Peace, Chapter 27, wrote one of them. A veteran of the Persian Gulf War who served in the Air Force from 1980 to 1992, she thanked the Rotary and the city for allowing the group to march. She also had bittersweet words for the crowd.
"I want to thank the many people in the crowd who stood, cheered, saluted, thanked us, and many who wanted to shake our hands," she noted. "And last, I would also like to thank the people in the crowd who booed us, jeered at us, verbally attacked us, stood and turned their backs to us, for showing the children in the audience what a real Ugly American looks like."
The third letter was from Varone, who along his wife, Becky, a member of Citizens for Peace, sat down to discuss war, peace and parades with the newspaper.
They explained that their organization has been in numerous parades around the state protesting the war in Iraq. Citizens for Peace is against the war in Iraq. It started out as Code Pink Women for Peace, Becky explained. They march with the Veterans for Peace because it gives them credibility, she said. The groups walked in Chanhassen's Fourth of July parade each year from 2003 to 2005. Two years ago they carried wooden caskets with the names of the deceased U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan on them. They sat out last year because they "ran out of energy."
This year they were back to press home their point for peace, but without the caskets because, Becky said: "A lot of the Rotary members felt that it was too controversial. They didn't want to approve us marching in the parade if we were going to have the coffins there."
Group members felt a casketless walk would be better than no walk at all.
"Yes, the coffins represent death," John said. "They represent the cost of a war. That's what they represent. We don't want to see that in this country. We don't want to be reminded of it. Not everybody is hurt by it."
"Not everybody is sacrificing," Becky added. "Most people aren't giving up anything, except their taxes."
Even without the caskets, the peace walkers remained controversial, but protesting the protesters is nothing new. They're used to it.
"We've had people yell things out, but you just march past them and ignore it," Becky said. She's a veteran protester who was in Chicago in 1968 with thousands of others to protest the Vietnam War during the Democratic National Convention.
She's motivated by a sense of justice.
"I did not believe that was a just war either," she said of Vietnam. "I felt we were there for oil."
However, what they experienced as a result of the man yelling insults and following them this year was more than either is willing to tolerate next year. They plan to avoid the Chanhassen parade altogether.
"We've never had anything to the extent that we did in this parade," Becky said. "People seemed like they were more polarized than they have ever been."
Without the Veterans for Peace, the Citizens for Peace will not walk, she lamented.
"We feel that somebody needs to be working for peace," she said. "We put how much money into war and defense in this country, but no money into peace and how to live together peacefully, like establishing a Department of Peace."
A combat veteran of the Vietnam War, John explained that he is not a pacifist, just protesting the U.S. involvement in Iraq right now.
"Let's just say that a boatload of terrorists lands on the Minnesota River by Chaska," he hypothesized. "Does anybody think that we would not defend our country? I mean, that's the way we are interpreted - that we would just lay down our arms. Of course not! We're veterans. We're Americans. We've got our medals, our ribbons, presidential citations, you know. We did our duty."
He admitted that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was not a nice place, but he said the United States policy toward countries in the Middle East has been very inconsistent through the years, even helping to create the despots, like Hussein. That's one of the reasons he's protesting the war. His main objective in the parade was to raise awareness of what he thinks are powerful international forces at work in Iraq that American taxpayers are supporting through their funding of the U.S. involvement.
"Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue," he said. "Iraq was called Mesopotamia. In 1921, it was divided up. This has been going on for a long, long time, and it had nothing to do with terrorists at that point in time. It was about money."
He suggested that our country engage terrorists in the Middle East differently, with better cooperation of other countries in that region. He admitted, though, that "nobody has all the answers."
Becky said she engages the terrorists by contributing money to organizations that advocate human rights, like building schools for girls, in Afghanistan. Both of them think it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. They look forward to welcoming Minnesota National Guard troops home from Iraq. John explained that in addition to protesting war, the group is also one of the biggest advocates for veterans.
"We are huge advocates for our soldiers," John said. "Every soldier I ever see, I go up to them and say 'Welcome home. If you need anything, let us know.'" He helps veterans understand their rights and the services they can receive from the VA.
The Veterans for Peace movement grew out of the Vietnam Veterans against the War. It has more than 6,000 members in the country, with one of the largest and active chapters in Minneapolis, Chapter 27, John said. The chapter is staffed and located at 2123 Clinton Ave., S., St. Stephen's Church, Minneapolis, and more information can be found at www.twincitiesvfp.org.
Copyright Southwest Newspapers 2007