THE RALLY WAS PUT ON TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE "DOWNING STREET MEMOS."
Independent Florida Alligator
By DIANA MAZZELLA
Alligator Contributing Writer
More than the local heat index rose this weekend as Gainesville residents gathered to call for a government review of documents challenging the U.S. government's impetus for invading Iraq.
About 80 people sweated, listened, fanned themselves, applauded, ate, performed and made speeches to commemorate the Downing Street Memo Third Anniversary Event at the Florida School of Massage on Saturday afternoon.
Organized by local political groups such as the county branches of Progressives, Democrats and the Green Party, Veterans for Peace and the Community Coalition Against War and Terror, the event called for government action on the Downing Street memos.
The memos are said to contain evidence that the Bush administration planned the war in Iraq before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and that the British government had no knowledge of the development of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Retired Navy officer Dave Bruderly, who plans to run in the 2006 Congressional race for Florida's sixth district, took to the small wooden house's front porch, a makeshift stage on the grounds of the school, and emphasized the memos were "memorandum[s] of fact."
He said the United Nations should be brought into Iraq and the United States should get out.
Former Ambassador to Peru Dennis Jett, who now serves as dean of UF's International Center, was widely applauded as he delivered remarks at the request of his former research assistant who was involved in the event.
"If we supported our troops, we'd impeach their leader," he said, calling for listeners to involve their friends.
After his speech, Jett equated the events behind the war in Iraq to Watergate and said he thought "a crime has been committed at the highest level in Washington."
Event coordinator Shelly Packer said approximately 500 other groups met in cities across the country on the same day to discuss the issue.
Later in the afternoon, a handful of performers and a dog named Rooty staged a rendition of the meeting from which the documents originated at 10 Downing St. in 2002.
The basic script came from the Web site, www.afterdowningstreet.org , said Jerry Rose, the playwright who adapted the script for the day's performance.
Rose said he expanded the information from the Web site to include things for dramatic effect that may not have been said at the meeting but were from other memos.
Though hard to hear at times, it drew an appreciative roar from the audience when "Tony Blair" made his entrance as a Bush-mask-wearing dachshund led by owner David Dick.
The event was funded by in-kind donations from organizers and individuals who purchased food items or rented sound equipment for the event, Packer said. In total, he said the event was funded by about $300.
Brenda Bayne, a co-coordinator of the Alachua County's chapter of Democracy for America, said the number of attendees who braved the summer heat showed the Gainesville community's interest in what was happening with its government. She also said the people who attended were not radical.
"They actually care about America," Bayne said.