This morning at 10:30 a.m., Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will be in Federal Plaza to commemorate the end of the war in Iraq. Preckwinkle was also there over nine years ago, to protest the Bush Administration’s plans to invade the country.
That rally on Oct. 2, 2002, is remembered because of a speech by the man who would ultimately end the war, then-state Sen. Barack Obama, who was contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate.
As a legislator, Obama wasn’t expected to have a position on foreign policy. An anti-war, anti-Bush speech would make him even more appealing to Democrats who were feeling distraught and powerless over the country’s race to war and were still angry about the 2000 presidential election. These were the activists who wrote checks, stood in front of supermarkets with petitions, made phone calls, and always voted.
Obama had less than two days to write the speech, but it was the first great address of his career. He challenged his audience. Even though he was speaking to an anti-war crowd, he made it clear that he was not a pacifist. In fact, he believed that some of America’s wars had made the world a better place. He was talking to people who sported “Peace is Patriotic” stickers on the bumpers of their rusty cars, but he wanted them to know life wasn’t that simple: sometimes war was patriotic, too.
“Good afternoon,” Obama began. “Let me begin by saying that although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances.
“The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in history, and yet it was only through the Crucible of the Sword, the sacrifice of multitudes, that we could begin to perfect this union and drive the scourge of slavery from our soil. I don’t oppose all wars.
“I don’t oppose all wars. And I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. A rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other arm-chair, weekend warriors in this Administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and hardships borne.
“What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in median income – to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.
“That’s what I’m opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.”
The speech has its intended effect, not just on Federal Plaza, but on Obama’s public profile. In the days afterward, the text was circulated on the Internet, where such sites as Democratic Underground, Truthout, Buzzflash and Daily Kos were becoming online kiosks for opponents of the Bush Administration. The speech cemented the support of Democratic donor Bettylou Saltzman and Julie Hamos, a state representative who also spoke at the rally. Hamos represented a wealthy North Shore district. After Obama announced his candidacy, the two women threw a fundraiser for him there, and Saltzman lobbied Axelrod to take him on as a client.
Public relations specialist Marilyn Katz, who organized the 2002 rally, is also organizing today’s.
“On October 2, 2002,” Katz said in a statement, “to the surprise of themselves and a nation still reeling from the events of 9/11, thousands of people gathered in Federal Plaza to voice our opposition to an impending war that we felt was built on lies and would cost both the people of Iraq and America thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Among the speakers that day was a relatively unknown state senator – Barack Obama, who added a strong voice in opposition when it was not yet a popular position.
“What began as a few thousand people in Federal Plaza and places like it grew to a movement of millions who opposed a war and became a critical force in electing a president who promised to end the war he had long opposed. That movement has continued. The promise has been kept. We return to Federal Plaza to mourn the losses all have endured and to celebrate the difference that citizen action can make in creating and changing history – and to honor those whose word is their promise.”
Also attending will be Ald. Joe Moore; anti-war activist Tom Hayden, Progressive Democrats of America; Cook County Board Member Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, commissioner, Cook County Board; Julie Hamos, director, state of Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Obama won’t be in Federal Plaza this time. The organizers won’t mind. He’s right where they want him to be, and they can take a little credit for putting him there.
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