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Guest Commentary

Even at contentious protests, it's possible to find common ground

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In the last piece of mine that ran in this space, I confessed a fascination with leftists. I now confess a similar morbid fascination with the deranged. So when I heard of a "World Can't Wait" protest rally downtown at the federal building, well, I couldn't wait!

First, a little background: Charles Clark Kissinger, a longtime leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, founded World Can't Wait (WCW) in June 2005. Kissinger was an SDS leader back in the '60s. The mission of WCW: "Drive out the Bush regime." A perusal of the WCW Web site leaves one with the impression that there is no anti-Bush fantasy too wacky for its followers.

I arrived a little early and was happy to see that the counterprotesters slightly outnumbered the WCW folks. The two groups were spread out along the curb on the north side of Congress Street in front of the older federal building.

I walked out onto the median where I could view both groups in their entirety, and I took a few shots--photographs, I should say. The WCW folks were on the left, and the counterprotesters were on the right.

Each side had placards and a bullhorn, and were waving and chanting at the rush-hour traffic. Most of the placards on the left side said, "Drive Out the Bush Regime" or "Bush Step Down Now." Others were less warm and fuzzy. The folks on the right side had placards that said, "God Bless America, God Bless Our Troops," "Viva Bush" and "Bin Laden Loves Lefties." They also had their share of less-than-warm-and-fuzzy declarations.

Now, bullhorns are tricky things. A guy on the right side successfully stirred up some folks on the left side when he gave a history lesson about the "120 million people murdered by communism in the 20th century." A little later, he began singing "God Bless America" through the thing. Yikes! You really need a choir or strong vocalist to pull that off. The folks on the left actually did a little better with theirs. Typically, they would use it to start the crowd off on crazed chants of "Bush Step Down!" or their apparent favorite, "Bush Bombed the Towers!"

There were a number of American flags--all on the right side. Someone on the right side unfurled an Israeli flag, which caused the guy on the left side with the FUCK ISRAEL T-shirt to become quite animated. I got close enough to him to note the little Web address also on his T-shirt with the less-than-warm-and-fuzzy statement about our ally. It turned out to be a news site for white racists and anti-Semites.

The Tucson Police Department cops were great. They were present, but not part of the event. They were quiet, still and observant--very professional. As the crowd grew, the conversations where the two groups abutted each other became increasingly strident. At the appropriate time, a bike-patrol officer intervened and asked that the participants gather in their respective groups and direct their expressions toward traffic. Two bike patrol officers and their bikes remained between the two groups. Things were fairly civilized thereafter.

There was the occasional individual who drifted to the other side and engaged another individual in thoughtful, adult conversation. I was a witness to a number of these. I doubt if any minds were changed, but some hearts were. I saw a young right guy speak at length with an old left guy. By the end of the conversation, they were patting each other's shoulders. The young guy said, with a big smile, "Hey, you remind me of my old man!" It was a compliment.

After a while, the ranks of the folks on the left grew to about 50 or 60 (my best guess; I forgot to count), while the folks on the right numbered about 20. When it began to get dark, the folks on the left took the show on the road and began marching around downtown.

The next day, I described the event to my friend Mike. He said that we were lucky to live in a country where you have street protests without people on opposing sides killing each other, and without the police showing up and beating everybody. I agreed. Yet, while I'm grateful for peaceful demonstrations and professional police, it is the men patting each other's shoulders that gives me hope.

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