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MacDill is venue for war protest

Anti-war protesters gather at the air force base's Dale Mabry entrance to object to a possible war with Iraq.

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 4, 2002

TAMPA -- Several hundred protesters held a rally Sunday at MacDill Air Force Base, transforming the Dale Mabry entrance to the base into a forum for anti-war sentiments.

Among signs that said, "Drop Bush Not Bombs," and "There is a terrorist behind every Bush," the crowd chanted "No justice, no peace" during breaks between speakers.

For more than two hours, protesters cheered, chatted and chastised the government for moving forward with a possible war in Iraq instead of focusing on the war on terrorism and Osama bin Laden.

"Whatever motivated those 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 can motivate other folks," said Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the African People's Socialist Party.

Yeshitela said the U.S. government is pursuing the war in Iraq to gain control of the world's petroleum sources, putting countries such as Europe and Japan "increasingly at the mercy of the United States."

Keynote speaker Sami Al-Arian, the suspended USF professor under federal investigation for alleged ties to terrorism, encouraged protesters to question the government's, "Enron code of ethics."

"We must not confuse patriotism with hatred," he said. "To be patriotic is to be able to question the government."

Korean War veteran Haven Whiteside, 71, agreed, saying that before going to war, "I think you should ask some questions first."

Whiteside was one of the few who ventured to the south side of MacDill's Dale Mabry entrance to talk to a dozen people who gathered in support of the war and waved the American flag, holding signs that said, "War = Peace."

Awaiting Whiteside with a bullhorn was Charles "White Chocolate" Perkins, a 26-year-old public access television personality.

The two went head-to-head in a low-key discussion for about three minutes before police escorted Whiteside back across the street.

Perkins said his father served in the military, and while everyone has a different position on what the war in Iraq means, it all comes down to one thing.

"It's about supporting the troops. Your family and friends," he said. "Any loss of life is a bad thing, but if troops have to go to war and kill or be killed, if they are going to die for me, then they deserve my support."

There were no arrests at Sunday's rally.

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