A dozen members of the Berkeley-based California Peace Action joined hundreds of demonstrators in Santa Clara Friday, where President Bush toured a United Defense Inc. facility and later addressed the company’s workers. There Bush promised a brighter economic future for Silicon Valley and the United States.
They brought with them a 50-foot inflatable missile with a glaring message in white letters on a banner hanging down one side, "Bush Strategy: Endangering America, Enraging the World."
With 35,000 members and other offices in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, California Peace Action is the state’s largest peace organization. The group’s headquarters are located at 2800 Adeline Ave.
“Before Sept. 11 we probably had one person per week coming by the Berkeley office to find out what we are about,” said Eric See, the group’s state outreach officer. “During the buildup to the invasion of Iraq we would have anywhere from five to 10 people coming in, asking about how they can get involved.”
Dolores Beliso, the Bay Area canvass director, pulled out her cell phone when she parked her van at the demonstration site Friday. She called See, who had driven down separately. See told her the rest of the group had gathered close by at Lafayette Park to inflate the missile; she led her passengers there.
“The idea behind the missile is if you have something that is very easy for the TV camera to look at, and it is repeated over and over again then people start looking for it and paying attention to it,” See said.
The group first used the missile in California back in 2000 during the group’s “Missile Stop Tour.” They displayed the missile in front of different congressional representatives’ offices across the state, giving them two options: sign on to pieces of anti-nuclear legislation, or refuse and suffer bad press.
The demonstrators’ spirits were high. Some grew anxious as the hour approached 10 a.m. Bush was inside the weapons technology plant.
At one point during the President’s speech, he celebrated the company’s production of the Hercules tank, which helped drag down the statue of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The 1,500 workers listening cheered, while outside hundreds, cordoned off blocks away from the facility, shouted a different tune.
Anti-war protesters lined one side of the street, across from a small pocket of Bush supporters. Eleven Santa Clara mounted police officers formed a gate across the street, keeping a buffer zone between the plant and Bush critics.
The Berkeley group approached with the inflated missile held high. Soon the image grabbed everyone’s attention. A few protesters laughed, then ran toward the object. The closer it came, the louder the protest grew. The carriers marched it into the center of the column of protesters, and the loudest chanting of the day began.
“The people were real responsive to our missile. The energy felt really good,” said Sean Sandusky, a Berkeley resident and canvasser.
The day was incident free but for two arrests: a person laid on the ground and refused police orders to move and another person allegedly knocked a protest sign against one of the San Jose police horses.
Once word spread that Bush had left, demonstrators dispersed shortly after 11 a.m.
"I didn't have the idea we would change Bush's opinion on his foreign policy, and we didn't feel that we would actually see George W. Bush,” See said. “To the extent it got media coverage it was effective. Two news stations aired coverage of the missile. In terms of getting our message out there it was worthwhile."