Speaking Out About the Potential War with Iraq
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
SPOKESMAN: We’re also talking about inflaming world opinion with a preemptive attack on Iraq.
SPENCER MICHELS: The possibility of war in Iraq has sharply divided the people of Salem, Oregon, where more than 200 of them packed a recent city council meeting to debate a resolution opposing unilateral U.S. Military action. Salem is used to disagreement and divisions, but usually the issues are local.
WOMAN: Good morning. Donna divine with key title company.
WOMAN: Good morning. Lisa whitey with glass optics and eyewear.
SPENCER MICHELS: These are members of the Salem downtown association, meeting recently at Greenbaum’s Quilted Forest for morning coffee and discussion of a hot button issue: The revitalization of downtown. Business-oriented Mayor Janet Taylor was the speaker.
JANET TAYOR, Salem Mayor: There has been divisiveness downtown and throughout the community, and it is time to let go of it.
SPENCER MICHELS: The mayor, who owns a metal factory, won her job by portraying her opponents as anti-business. But while those divisions persist, the town has been concentrating of late on the threat of war.
JANET TAYLOR: I would view it as a very balanced city, people on both sides of the war issue. So very much a reflection of, I think, our whole country.
SPENCER MICHELS: As Oregon’s state capital, located along the Willamette River, south of Portland, Salem is a town of 137,000 people. Many of its traditions are rural and conservative. Voters are about evenly split, Democrat and Republican. In 2000, the area gave George Bush a slight edge over Al Gore. It is a peaceful place, where a carousel with wooden horses, hand-carved by townspeople, is the pride of the city. But Salem’s tranquility seems to be in jeopardy.
DEMONSTRATORS: Hey, hey, ho, ho! Bush’s war has got to go!
SPENCER MICHELS: In mid February about 1,100 people rallied and marched through the town, opposing war and criticizing Pres. Bush’s policies. Although there is no local TV station, and Portland stations ignored the demonstration, peace activist, attorney and former mayor Michael Swaim said the march was important.
MICHAEL SWAIM, Former Salem Mayor: The usual demonstration brings about 300 or 400 people– you would be astounded. 1,100 people may be a record.
SPENCER MICHELS: That was a significant number, then?
MICHAEL SWAIM: Oh, yeah, no question about it. The question is whether it is a critical mass, and I’m beginning to believe it might be.
SPENCER MICHELS: But opinions on that vary. George Puentes owns a successful tortilla factory in Salem and is president of the chamber of commerce. He’s a former city councilor, who, like the mayor, is pro- business and a supporter of George Bush.
GEORGE PUENTES: I just think people are just… they’re upset about many things, and I think it’s manifesting itself in these peace marches.
SPENCER MICHELS: You think that’s true in Salem as well?
GEORGE PUENTES: I think that’s very true even here in Salem. And again, you know, the fact that we’re 130,000 people, and we get 1,000 people at a peace march is… to me, is not overwhelming support.
WOMAN: So I’m definitely going to support the resolution…
SPENCER MICHELS: At the council meeting, Anna Braun explained why she had brought an antiwar resolution to a body more at home debating zoning laws.
ANNA BRAUN, City Councilor: A lot of people think that taking this issue on at this point is unpatriotic, and that saddens me, because that means you can’t speak up, and I don’t know when there’s a time when you can speak up if not now, before the bombs are going.
WOMAN: I move for the adoption of resolution number ten, series of 2003.
SPENCER MICHELS: The resolution cited other cities– this is Denver– that had passed similar measures against the war. In fact, about 120 cities have taken such action while about a dozen voted them down. Salem, with a newly elected conservative majority on the council, reluctantly devoted nearly three hours listening to townspeople debate national policy.
MIKE FORREST: We’ve got to support our president. We’ve got to support our country. And the people that are over there fighting this war, or possibly, we have got to support them.
JIM COOK: If cities like this had taken a stand at this point where we were in the Vietnam War, than thousands of my brothers who died in Vietnam would still be alive today.
WOMAN: Can you summarize, sir?
SPENCER MICHELS: Mayor Taylor tried to keep the one-minute speeches evenly divided on the antiwar resolution, but the antiwar contingent at the meeting was considerably larger.
BILL SMALDONE: Patriotism should never be blind. Nor should we sacrifice the lives of our sons or daughters in blind obedience to our government.
BILL HAYDEN: As an active member of my church, I am deeply troubled by the loss of life that is going to occur, and it won’t just be military; it will be thousands and thousands of Iraqi citizens.
ROB RIORDAN: You folks here tonight say “no war,” but your message construed to the troops says, “we don’t support you and we don’t care about you.” I’m sorry; that is the truth.
WOMAN: In Salem, we don’t have enough firemen on our fire trucks…
SPENCER MICHELS: Several speakers scolded the council for even taking up a national issue.
LISA BROWN: I’m offended that the council would seek to speak on my behalf on an issue so very far out of its purview; that’s my job. Thank you.
SPENCER MICHELS: A 65-year-old veteran was angered by the antiwar contingent, who reminded him of when he returned from Vietnam.
BOB BURTON: One hour after I got home I was spat on by the same people that were… are carrying signs out there today.
NANC BAKER KREEFFT: I did not spit on anyone from Vietnam. I want to prevent another Vietnam. That is why I’m here today.
ALLISON DELATORRE: I know that when our federal government spends money in war, it is taken away from the children and the social services that need it the most.
SPENCER MICHELS: After more than 70 statements, the councilors had their say.
RICK STUCKY, City Councilor: I didn’t vote for George Bush, and if there was an election held today, I wouldn’t vote for him again. But given the choice of trusting the leaders of my country and trusting the leaders of the Iraqi government, I have to trust my own country, and I’ll be opposing the resolution.
SPENCER MICHELS: Councilor Wes Bennett is an Air Force veteran, a retired engineer and a republican.
WES BENNETT, City Councilor: I came here tonight prepared to vote against this resolution. I think that the thing that rises to the top of the list is the voice of the people, and I’m impressed by the number of people that came out here tonight, and I’m going to vote in favor of the resolution. ( Applause )
SPENCER MICHELS: Mayor Taylor, who, as a businesswoman, had met last summer with Pres. Bush, defended American military action.
JANET TAYLOR: I think of it as a defensive measure against Sept. 11. ( Booing ) It was determined… courtesy please. It was determined that the al-Qaida came from Iraq, some of them. I cannot support this resolution. I will be voting against it. All those in favor of the motion raise your hand. That would be Braun, Willinan, and Bennett.
SPENCER MICHELS: Three councilors voted in favor. But the crowd turned silent when six councilors, including the mayor, voted no and defeated the anti-war resolution. At the Salem Statesman Journal the next morning, editorial page editor Dick Hughes said he wasn’t surprised by the vote. But Hughes said he was surprised by the strength of antiwar sentiment in the town. Letters to the editor have been running two to one against war.
DICK HUGHES: Certainly a large number of people whom I’m surprised are opposed to the war, or very concerned about it at least, that they, “are we doing the right thing?” If there is this much concern in Salem, it really raises questions about what’s happening elsewhere in the country. I would have expected Salem to be… letter writers to say “we support our president. What are those protestors doing?”
SPENCER MICHELS: Even though his side lost in the council, former Mayor Swaim sees parallels between the Iraq protests and those against the Vietnam War.
MICHAEL SWAIM: One thing we learned from the Vietnam experience was that it is possible for the common, everyday, ordinary people to change foreign policy if there are enough of them that feel passionately about the cause.
SPENCER MICHELS: Is that what’s happening now in Salem?
MICHAEL SWAIM: And I think that’s what’s happening now in Salem, absolutely.
SPOKESMAN: There’s Los Angeles, Philadelphia…
SPENCER MICHELS: Councils in many cities around the country are still trying to decide whether to debate the possible war. About 100 of them have scheduled votes or discussions in the next few weeks.