Several hundred activists showed up at Mill Spring Park in Jonesborough Saturday to raise awareness of depleted uranium weapons and demand an end to the war in Iraq.
The rally, sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, was one of 11 other rallies that were held around the country in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Jonesborough police had set up checkpoints to get into the park and searched everyone who entered.
Washington County sheriff’s deputies, Johnson City police officers and troopers with the Tennessee Highway Patrol provided security throughout the event, which began at noon and ended with a march and protest outside the gates of Aerojet Ordnance.
The activists were opposed by the local chapter of Rolling Thunder, who stood outside the park’s perimeter and yelled at the activists things like “You’re aiding the enemy” and chanted the slogan “USA” over and over again. Many held up signs with the words “Support the troops.”
Some of the activists responded with “Let’s bring the troops home” but were told by organizers not to engage Rolling Thunder in an exchange of words.
As the “USA.” chant was being shouted behind him, activist David Swanson spoke to the crowd and told them the surest way for the war in Iraq to end was for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to stop supporting legislation to fund the war.
He said that would not work because President George W. Bush would find ways to fund it in a round about way.
“Impeachment is the one thing the president cannot stop,” he told the crowd. “All he can do is crawl back to Crawford (Texas) with (Vice President) Dick Cheney to await their criminal trials.”
Another aspect of the rally, and what separated it from the other rallies across the country Saturday, was its focus on depleted uranium (DU) weapons, which the activists allege are made at Aeorojet Ordnance about four miles away from where the rally was held.
“I know guys who fought in Iraq who are convinced that they have DU poisoning,” Swanson said.
Several speakers at the rally said that depleted uranium shells, once they strike their target release radioactive material that has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
Rolling Thunder representatives, who wanted to make clear that they had no affiliation with United for Peace or other anti-war and anti-Bush administration groups, thought the activists were committing a sin.
Vietnam veteran John Andes was at the rally and remembers well the disrespectful way veterans were treated upon returning from Southeast Asia in the 1960s and ’70s.
“This is a sacrilege,” he said of the rally. “You don’t hold rallies like this when our people are fighting. As Vietnam veterans we made a vow not to let what happened to us happen to these veterans.”
Andes recalled being spit upon and called a baby killer during his time in the service and worries about what today’s veterans will face.