One Hundred Times at the Courthouse
by Larry Syverson of Military Families Speak Out
On December 12, 2003, at noon, I performed my 100th protest in front of the Richmond, VA Federal Courthouse. For me, these protests are personal. I have three sons in the military. Two are currently stationed in Iraq. Branden is a master gunner for Abrams tanks with the 4th Infantry and in April was deployed to Tikrit. Bryce is a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle with the 1st Armored and in May was deployed to Baghdad.
I began these protests in mid-March prior to the war's beginning. They continued through the war and now the occupation. On the first day of the war, over 100 people protested at the Courthouse. As the war quickly wound-down, and the long slog of an occupation set in, the crowds disappeared. By May 1st, when Bush technically declared the war over, six people protesting at the Courthouse was considered a GOOD day.
Those first few months were very difficult. The Courthouse sits only one block from the Capitol of the Confederacy. To many Richmonders, the Civil War is still a hot topic. I cannot count how many times I have been shot the "bird". Many shouted I was not patriotic and several even called me a communist.
Before they yelled insults at me, many drivers would honk to get my attention . So, I took control of the situation. I confiscated their honks! I made a sign "Honk for Peace". Now when people honk, they honk in support. I reply to each honk: "Honk for peace! Bring the troops home!"
The small numbers of supporters continued with one exception, June 24, 2003, Bryce's 25th birthday. Ten friends joined me on that special day to wish Bryce a Happy Birthday somewhere in Baghdad.
In early December, I announced my upcoming 100th protest at the Courthouse. The event was posted at the Military Families Speak Out and Richmond Indy-Media websites. I didn't know what to expect. I hoped for a turnout of between 10 and 15 people.
The results were amazing! At one time there were 40 people standing along the curb. The "Honk for Peace" sign was prominently held, and I have never heard so many horns. With each honk, the crowd yelled the appropriate response. We protesters generated so much commotion that a car rear-ended another car in front of us. Fortunately, no one was injured, and the police did not hassle us when they responded.
I knew only a quarter of the people who came down to stand with me. I traveled up and down the line to personally thank each protester for his support. The hour ended with me performing a mild form of civil disobedience: I stood on the "off-limits" Courthouse steps while thanking everyone for their support.
In reflection, I am just a dad trying to get his sons out of Iraq. But on December 12th, I really did feel that I might be making a difference. There is a large group of people who are against the occupation in Iraq. They just need a reason to come out to voice their opinion. I'm glad I was able to offer that reason.
Eventually, the administration will have to acknowledge the ground-swell of people who are against our military actions in Iraq. My 100th protest gave me hope that perhaps that acknowledgment isn't far in the future.