Dual rallies converge outside Hastert's office in Batavia
By James Kimberly, Tribune staff reporter. Freelance reporter Denise Linke contributed to this report
September 8, 2005
An anti-war demonstration Wednesday outside U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office in west suburban Batavia Wednesday drew peace activist mother Cindy Sheehan, about 100 supporters and a large and vocal crowd of counterdemonstrators.
The rally was organized by Bring Them Home Now, a group that includes Sheehan and other parents who have lost children in combat in Iraq and advocates of immediate pullout from the region.
That Hastert was not there, but at a scheduled session of Congress, did not seem to matter.
"There are no answers!" emcee Michael McConnell shouted into the public address system.
A few feet away, Jim Frazier, 56, of St. Charles crushed out a cigarette with the ball of his foot and watched silently. Frazier served six years in the Marines. His son, Staff Sgt. Jacob Frazier, 24, of the Illinois Air National Guard, was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan on March 29, 2003.
"These people ain't got a clue," Frazier said. "Nobody is for war."
But the divisiveness of the dueling rallies Wednesday is bad for troop morale, Frazier warned.
"Everybody has a right to do what these people are doing, that is to protest," Frazier said.
"God bless them. They have all the right in the world. That's what my son fought for. But you need to think about it a little bit."
Wednesday's rally in Batavia was one of a dozen or so stops Sheehan is making during a cross-country tour to drum up support for a Sept. 24 anti-war rally in Washington. Other Chicago-area stops included Evanston on Tuesday night and Wheaton on Wednesday night.
About 200 people showed up for the Wheaton vigil Wednesday.
Christine Cegelis, a Democrat seeking the U.S. House 6th District seat now occupied by retiring Republican Henry Hyde, was among the crowd.
"I think this is a good cause," Cegelis said.
"Sheehan is highlighting the lack of a reason to go to war [in Iraq], the lack of preparedness to go to war and the lack of proper treatment for our returning veterans."
Kathy Slovick, one of the vigil organizers and co-founder of DuPage Against War Now, said: "It's very important for people to see that DuPage residents are not all in lock step with the Bush administration and the people who favor the war in Iraq."
Sheehan, whose son Casey, 24, was killed in Baghdad in April 2004, said she has given up on her demand that President Bush meet face-to-face with her for a second time and answer her questions about the war. Sheehan, 48, of Vacaville, Calif., said she now intends to take her fight to Washington.
"We are going to Congress, and we will hold Congress accountable," she said.
With competing protesters converging in downtown Batavia, police braced for the worst on Wednesday.
Officers blocked off River and State Streets, which converge in a T-shaped intersection in front of Hastert's office. A large crowd of officers stood by silently, some wearing protective vests with plastic ties that could be used as handcuffs. In front of Hastert's office, long, wooden batons stood stacked at the ready and helmets with plastic face shields were lined up along the sidewalk.
But the worst to happen was shouting matches between the two sides.
War protesters packed the area and displayed 72 pairs of combat boots, each tagged with the name and hometown of an Illinois soldier killed in Iraq. They also displayed photographs of the first 1,000 soldiers killed in combat.
Sheehan's time in Batavia was brief--she only showed up for a few minutes at the end of the rally that lasted a little more than an hour. But she was the focal point of the event.
The counterprotest included officials of the Kane County Young Republicans and Hastert supporters. They carried Bush/Cheney election signs and hand-drawn posters supporting the war and chanted "We want Cindy!" before her arrival.
Sheehan was at the microphone for just a few minutes, but her presence energized both sides. She thanked the crowd for coming and reiterated her widely publicized belief that the war in Iraq is illegal.
Counterprotesters interrupted her brief address, chanting "Shame on Cindy!" "Where is your husband?" and "Go to France!"
As she left she passed Frazier and his friend, Kirk Morris, 47, of Gurnee, whose son Marine Pvt. Geoffrey Morris, 19, was killed in Iraq last year.
"I introduced myself and I said `I'm a Gold Star dad, and you don't speak for me,'" said Frazier.
Sheehan said she never intended to give the impression she spoke for all parents who have lost children in the war.
"I never said I represented them," Sheehan said. "They have a right to their beliefs, and I have a right to my beliefs."
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