It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon on the San Diego waterfront: a cool sea breeze, a warm sun reflecting off the harbor and a perfectly clear blue sky. It was a beautiful day for President George W. Bush to come sailing into San Diego Bay-except Bush was nowhere to be found.
The President was on the aircraft carrier Thomas Jefferson, about 35 miles offshore of San Diego. Bush had made a much-publicized tailhook landing onto the carrier in a jet warplane that morning, a stunt that would be perfect material for a campaign commercial-if it weren't already a commercial in itself, carried live on the major networks. The stated purpose for Bush's visit was to give a speech declaring that the military phase of the invasion of Iraq was over. Never mind that he could have made the speech from the White House or waited until the carrier was in port and just walked aboard.
Being out to sea meant that Bush was safely out of sight and earshot of a group of about 200 anti-war protestors who gathered along the waterfront for the occasion. They massed in front of the Star of India, in plain sight of the giant yellow ribbon workers were wrapping around the County Administration Building. The protestors lined a section of Harbor Drive, holding homemade signs with slogans like "Regime Change Starts at Home," "No Crooked Halliburton Contracts" and "Violence Begets Violence." They shouted anti-war and anti-Bush slogans at passing cars, whooping whenever a driver honked in support.
In his speech that day, Bush declared that even though the invasion of Iraq is finished, it was just one battle in the continuing war on terrorism. The protestors were demonstrating that for them, too, the war is not over. Even though the invasion of Iraq is officially finished, anger at the President's action is still strong. "I'd be willing to vote for Mickey Mouse!" instead of Bush, one woman exclaimed. Her sentiment was widely echoed among the protest participants.
The protest was organized by the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, which had organized many of the previous anti-war protests downtown. Thursday's event was designed to coincide with the President's speech, and organizers were pleased with the turnout, given the short, 48-hour notice of the President's visit-or semi-visit.
That the president chose to deliver his speech in international waters was not lost on the protestors. Most saw the irony in Bush speaking before hundreds of sailors who were listening to their commander-in-chief. Protest on the aircraft carrier wasn't just highly unlikely; it would have been a punishable offense. Not to mention that the Thomas Jefferson was returning from an extended tour of 10 months and was only a few hours from port; the sailors would have likely cheered if Bush had recited the San Diego White Pages.
Since President Bush had made himself unavailable to answer criticisms, the protestors improvised. In an absurd bit of theater, they addressed their questions to a life-sized cardboard cutout of a smiling Bush that was adorned with a gold crown. Participants took turns at the microphone, directing their venom and frustration at the lifeless replica, asking questions not likely to be heard by the actual President:
"Where are those weapons of mass destruction?"
"What kind of kickbacks are you getting from Bechtel?"
"Why is there always money for war but no money for education programs?"
"Could you please tell me, where is the actual connection between Iraq and 9/11?"
"How are you going to bring democracy to America?"
And a young girl took the microphone to ask: "Am I going to have enough money for my school next year?"
There seemed to be no end to the unanswered questions: What were Bush's plans to clean up unexploded cluster bombs and depleted uranium ordnance? Now that America has secured Iraq's oil reserves, will we still have to drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge? If Bush wants to liberate the people of the world, what about the Palestinians? And if Bush is so religious, why didn't he listen to the Pope, who opposed the invasion of Iraq?
The protest went peacefully, with only a handful of police officers around to keep an eye on things. All the commotion was just fine with a Star of the Sea restaurant parking attendant who asked not to be named. He didn't have much business because protestors were crowding the entrance, but he didn't mind.
"I'd rather see this [protest] and not make money all night, than let politicians get away with stuff," he said, before dashing off to meet a gleaming silver Mercedes SL500 convertible that had inched its way through the crowd of critics.