The downtown intersection of State and De La Vina streets also hosted an intersection of two opposing viewpoints on the ongoing war Saturday afternoon.
Although the Santa Barbara Support the Troops Rally had been scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, a medium-sized crowd of red, white and blue-clad supporters had already gathered outside of the United States Army Reserve Center by 12:45 p.m. Participants waved American flags and held signs with messages like “When terrorism is defeated, the Iraqi people will rejoice,” and “God Bless Bush.” Several passing motorists honked their car horns in support.
At about 1 p.m., rally organizer Charles Kirkby addressed the growing crowd from the hood of an army vehicle adorned with flags representing each of the four branches of the U.S. armed forces.
“The purpose [of this rally] is not to be vulgar, not to be obscene, but to have a positive message for the troops overseas,” Kirkby said. “You may have noticed the anti-war people, and they have their right to freedom of speech, but it’s time we get out and show our support for the U.S. troops.”
The crowd continued to draw supporters and at one point recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
Roughly 15 minutes after Kirkby’s speech, however, a mock funeral procession organized by local anti-war group A.R.I.S.E. approached the street corner opposite the rally.
“This is not meant to be a protest, this is meant to be a funeral,” A.R.I.S.E. spokeswoman Lia Grippo said. Dressed in black, the participants in the procession carried small black coffins and a banner that read, “Mourning the Victims of ‘Liberation.'”
The anti-war procession met at Mackenzie Park on State Street and De La Vina and walked west on State, while members of A.R.I.S.E. called from a megaphone the names of U.S., British and Iraqi soldiers who have been killed. The procession was returning to Mackenzie Park when it encountered the Support the Troops Rally.
“When we planned this [demonstration], we had no idea [about the rally],” Grippo said. They learned about the rally through a press release issued by Kirkby on Friday.
Separated by four lanes of traffic and by their conflicting views on the war, each group carried on as they had planned; the rally continued to encourage passing drivers to honk in support of U.S. troops while A.R.I.S.E. called out names of the deceased.
Many of the troop supporters expressed disapproval of the group across the street. Some chanted “Support our troops,” and a handful of individuals yelled insults at the mourners.
Bill Stewart was one of several Vietnam War veterans present at the rally. “No one who’s been in war thinks it’s a great idea. However, I think in this case, war is necessary; Saddam has to be removed,” Stewart said. “I don’t blame those people for being against the war, maybe if we could sit and talk we’d find we have some thoughts in common.”
After several minutes of a standoff between the two demonstrations, A.R.I.S.E. continued down on State Street, with several police officers escorting them as they passed the rally.
A.R.I.S.E. filed charges earlier Saturday morning in two isolated incidents of alleged assault on the participants and so requested the police escort past the crowd at the rally.
Police Sgt. Dave Gonzales was present at the scene with two other police officers. “We saw the possibility for confrontation, so we’re just here to maintain the peace,” Gonzales said.
In a final speech to the rally, Kirkby said, “As long as the war is still going on and the troops are still over there, we will be here every Saturday to support them.”
When asked her response to the confrontation between demonstrations, Grippo said, “We are very glad we were able to have a presence.”