A swirling mass of red, white and blue pulsing to the sound of Lee Greenwood identified a Santa Barbara street corner as pro-troop territory Saturday afternoon.
For the third straight week, demonstrators gathered in front of the Army Reserve building on the corner of State Street and Las Positas Road to support American troops in Iraq. About 100 people waved flags, displayed signs and encouraged passing motorists to honk their car horns at the rally’s peak around 2 p.m.
Co-organizer Charles Kirkby of Santa Barbara said the rally was intended to give people a chance to support American troops regardless of their feelings about the war.
“We’ve got Republicans, Democrats, people of all different political ideologies here,” Kirkby said. “There are people who don’t agree with all of our government’s actions, but they can still back the men and women who are over there.”
As patriotic songs like Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” blared from a stereo mounted on the back of his Jeep, co-organizer Michael Lomonaco surveyed the crowd and attributed this week’s lower turnout to the holiday and declining media coverage of the war.
“When you look at the Santa Barbara News-Press and you have to actively look around to find out if we still have troops in Iraq, it’s going to be hard to draw people,” Lomonaco said, adding that crowds of up to 300 have attended in past weeks.
Lomonaco, who is Kirkby’s brother-in-law, said the five police officers surveying the event from a distance were there as a part of the organizer’s permit with the city.
“We’re a pretty mellow group,” he said.
Last week’s pro-troop rally was passed by an anti-war mock-funeral procession. The anti-war crowd only appeared this week in the form of a few shouts and signs from passing cars.
When a man in a white van shouted, “We murder Iraqis!” an unidentified demonstrator replied, “Go home, commie!” Two women in a red convertible holding a sign reading “Eat Crow Mr. Bush – You were Wrong” were bombarded with shouts of “Go back to Berkeley!” while they sat at the red light.
Vietnam veteran Charlie Franco walked through the crowd distributing small American flags to anyone who did not already have one.
“You don’t have to agree with our government’s policies to support the troops,” Franco said. “But people have to realize that the reason we have the right to express our own opinions is because people have sacrificed, people have shed blood for those rights.”
Gabriel Ibarra Jr. of Santa Barbara held a sign with a picture of the burning World Trade Center Towers framed by the words, “This Is Why!” Ibarra’s brother is a member of the Army 4th Infantry Unit, currently at work securing northern Baghdad.
“The people downtown always say, ‘Support our troops, bring them home,'” Ibarra said. “That’s not supporting them – you have to support their actions. There’s no drafting going on. Anyone there is there voluntarily.”
Ibarra was one of only five demonstrators still standing on the corner by 3:30 p.m.
“I love my country, and I will support the troops any way I can,” he said.