N. High Street became a dividing line on the morning of Oct. 20 as almost 200 people gathered on opposite sides to either protest or show their support for the war in Iraq.
The two primary organizations involved were the Chester County Peace Movement (CCPM) and Gathering of Eagles, a group that focuses on “Supporting our troops, our veterans and our nation.” CCPM gathered its members and supporters along Market Street near the First National Bank while Gathering of Eagles and other supporters of the war faced them from the side of the court house.
A plethora of signs bearing various slogans and American flags filled the air as people on both sides made their statements by attending the demonstration and discussing or arguing their point of view.
Some slogans included “War is not the answer,” “No war on Iran,” “Leftists Demoralize Soldiers” and “Thank you troops.”
Chris Hill, a veteran and National Director of Operations for Gathering of Eagles, explained the purpose for their meeting in West Chester. “They say they have been coming out for five years,” Hill said. “We represent the counter-argument to the Chester County Peace Movement.”
Hill explained that the anti-war protests do not help the troops and that statements that the Peace Movement make online “show up on Al-Jazeera.” “Sure peace is good,” Hill said, but he explained the Gathering of Eagles’ view that the war and the troops need popular support at home.
While the roughly hour-long demonstrations remained relatively calm, there were some shouting matches that occurred between the two groups. “This is America’s war, get behind it,” Hill shouted at one point.
“Every time you protest you help kill another American soldier,” another war supporter shouted at the conclusion of the demonstration. The anti-war protesters had their own views as well.
“No one really wins in war. It is basically one mass funeral,” one CCPM member said. “You don’t even hear about the war’s effect on the Iraqi people.”
Karen Porter, the director of the CCPM, explained that the war supporters only started to come to West Chester recently.
CCPM holds weekly vigils on Saturday mornings, but this week’s demonstration gained the most attention from both sides. “Their purpose is to make us go away and we’re not going away. Ever,” Porter said.
Mike Berg, a member of the Peace Movement, explained that the presence of more than one group was a positive aspect for the demonstration.
“There are veterans on both sides. I have been arrested with veterans that have protested with me,” Berg said. “It’s admirable to stand behind your beliefs. It’s bad when no one cares.”
Berg is the father of Nick Berg, a freelance contractor that was in Iraq and was decapitated on film by Islamic militants in 2004. The video gained national attention in the media.
Several WCU students attended the demonstration as well. Tim Burke, a second year student, experienced a conflict with war supporters at the previous week’s demonstration. Demonstrators that supported the war made anti-gay and derogatory comments to Burke.
“I just find it funny because it has nothing to do with the war,” Burke said.
The size of the demonstration brought West Chester’s attention to the war and the division it has caused between Americans.
Many cars “honked for peace” as they drove by, but many remained silent as well.
A New York Times poll taken in July found that 51 percent of Americans were against military action in Iraq while 42 percent supported the invasion.
The demonstration in West Chester represented only a fraction of the nation-wide division that exists over the war.
Shane Madden is a fourth-year student majoring in history with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at SM590676@wcupa.edu