The scene just north of MacDill Air Force Base Saturday was a study in contrasts.
In front of the base’s Dale Mabry Highway entrance, 80 protesters gathered to show displeasure with possible action against Iraq. They sang, prayed and chanted, but their gathering was interrupted by a thunderous example of the ideals they were protesting against.
A large mid-air refueling jet took off from MacDill’s runway a few hundred yards away, its four engines creating a deafening, ground-shaking roar.
But neither the momentary rumble of the jet nor the three Tampa police officers standing nearby dissuaded the protesters from speaking out about what many called misrepresentation by the government.
“It’s hard to offer words of wisdom in a world that seems insane,” said protester Sharon Streater. “That’s where our money is needed, not only to fight war but (to fight for) peace and justice in our own communities.”
The group stretched out at one point to cover a quarter of a mile stretch of Dale Mabry heading away from MacDill, which serves as central command for the U.S. War on Terrorism and would play an important role in a possible strike on Iraq.
Protesters held a variety of signs, including “Our grief is not a cry for war,” “Fight poverty not people” and “not in our name.”
Some passing motorists beeped at the group, while one man leaned out of his window and shouted “War.”
Making up the group were several religious and political organizations, including Florida Green Party leadership. The well-known Women in Black group was also present, creating an eerie sight as they walked dressed in black robes and carrying their trademark coffin.
Marlene Colony was the first of the protesters to speak. She told the group that they needed to remember the people of Iraq and make their feelings known to government officials.
“Congress is clearly not representing us,” Colony said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about that.”
Colony said she hopes to be part of a demonstration in Washington, D.C., and to rally like-minded people to the cause of peace.
“We’ve got to take a stand,” Colony said. “Because if we go down, we’re going to go down peacefully but not quietly. There is another voice to be heard in this land. Our congressmen (and) our president do not represent the people.”
Colony said she has talked to workers in some congressional offices who have reported that public anti-war sentiment is at least 10 to 1 and as high as 200 to 1. She said national leaders need to awaken to public desires.
“You know what I want to say to those people who want to fight so bad? Let them put on a uniform and pick up a gun,” Colony said.
Colony said she does not believe Iraq has nuclear weapons. She said if the United Nations were to place its support behind U.S. efforts in Iraq, her opinion on the war would not change.
“I’d say (the U.N. was) bought out as well,” Colony said.Sean Kinane, a College Democrats leader and graduate student at USF, attended Saturday’s gathering. He said he decided to join in the protest because Congress may vote for war this week and the resulting conflict could be long and costly.
“To be honest, that scares me to death,” Kinane said.
As to whether he would change his mind if the U.N. provided its support, Kinane, like Colony, said he would not be so easily convinced.
“I would have to learn a lot more than I know now,” Kinane said. “The U.N. can be persuaded by ulterior motives. They can essentially be coerced by the power of the U.S. economically and militarily to go along.”
Kinane added that he too has not been persuaded by pro-war rhetoric from Washington and said there is no evidence that it is necessary.
“There are possible reasons to go to war, but I haven’t heard anything close to reasons yet,” Kinane said.
The matter of whether to go to war with Iraq is an issue that may play a part in November congressional elections. The trend in the past week, however, has seemed to be for several key Democrats to shift their favor more toward the opinion of the White House.
Kinane said he has been unhappy with the behavior of Democrats in Congress.
“That disappoints me greatly,” Kinane said. “I feel betrayed.”