THE DALLES — More than 35 people from around the Mid-Columbia gathered here Monday afternoon to protest the war in Iraq in front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Office.
Seven people locked arms and blocked the entrance to the office. But, according to Capt. Edward Goodman of The Dalles police, who monitored the protest from the parking lot, officials from the recruiting station had learned of the intended protest minutes before it began, closed the station and left.
“It’s a peaceful demonstration,” Goodman said. “It’s closed for the day. They’re not interfering with the business.” The demonstrators sang peace songs and marched in a circle in front of the station for about 45 minutes.
Passersby — most of whom were coming or going from the nearby K-mart — gathered in clusters in the parking lot. Most watched the protest quietly but some of them yelled at the marchers.
“Did you forget 9/11?” shouted Annette Rysdam of The Dalles. She held a small American flag and waved it angrily at the protesters. “One thing they need to remember is no matter how long they’re out here on the street, our troops aren’t coming home till it’s over,” she said. “We need to stand behind them.”
Many of the protesters carried signs with messages of support for the troops but not the war. At times they chanted, “Love the warriors, hate the war.”
Many of the protesters — including four of those blocking the entrance to the recruiting station — were from Hood River or the Upper Valley. Theresa North, who was helping block the station’s entrance, was there to show her commitment to “upping the ante.”
“We’ve had huge protests, and they’ve been dismissed,” she said. North, who has two children aged 3 and 5, was prepared to be arrested for her act of civil disobedience, but no arrests were made.
Dee Holzman of Hood River joined the marching protesters.
“I was originally against the war,” she said. “But the more I hear, the more reasons I find to come out to these events. I don’t think ‘shock and awe’ is a way to deal with terrorism.” Holzman, who also has two children, said she thinks the war in Iraq is going to “inflame” the Middle East and increase terrorism.
Several veterans were among the protesters — including three blocking the entrance to the recruiting station. Ecumenical minister and veteran David Duncombe of White Salmon was also among the “blockers.”
Another veteran, Bob Snyder of The Dalles, arrived after his daughter came home from K-mart and informed him of the protest. He held an American flag up across from the protesters. Several people gathered around him.
“We’re showing our support for our president and our troops,” Snyder said. “We’re out here because they’re out here,” he added, pointing at the protesters.
A spokesman for the protesters called the event a success as it ended.
“We think it’s a great victory for peace,” said Mark Nykanen, a Hood River author who was one of those blocking the entrance to the recruiting station. Nykanen said the reason the protesters had targeted The Dalles recruiting station was that it serves as the recruiting station for the entire Gorge.
“We’re particularly happy they’ve closed down because this is their busiest time of day,” Nykanen said. “This is when 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids get out of school and come down here and sign their lives away. We’re glad that they were not able to do that today.”