It took the prospect of a third Mideast war in this century, but angry tea party supporters and old-style, leftist peaceniks marched shoulder to shoulder Wednesday through downtown Medford, shouting, "No attack on Syria."
In noon speeches at Vogel Plaza, both sides assailed President Barack Obama's proposed attack on the strife-torn Arab nation, saying it's not clear who gassed civilians, while claiming it would lead to American "boots on the ground" and be ruinously expensive.
"Obama is using the old argument of the domino effect, that if we don't stop the poison gas now, it will be used on our children," Herbert Rothschild, chairman of Peace House, told a gathering of two dozen people.
The protests came despite Obama's change in tone in recent days, as he works with Russian leaders to broker a deal that would lead to Syria giving up its chemical weapons.
Rothschild objected to the president calling Americans "exceptional" as a code word justifying the attack on Syria, asking, "Is it exceptional to go kill people? No, it's arrogant and murderous."
Following Rothschild, Susan Clark of Campaign for Liberty told the crowd that the president must not move on Syria without a congressional majority, something that now seems doubtful. "If we bomb chemical sites," she said, "we will cause extensive damage to the country. ... Syria is not a threat to us, but if we attack them, they will be — just like when we were attacked on 9/11."
Irene Holen of Medford, a member of the tea party-oriented Campaign for Liberty, said the president and Oregon's two senators, Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, are failing the country.
She thinks Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has the right stance.
"I'm disgusted with Obama, Merkley and Wyden," Holen said. "Walden is the only one who's correct on attacking Syria. We have no business there. Both sides in Syria are criminal, and we need to stay out of their civil war."
The rally coincided with the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attack by al-Qaida, and several protesters said the terrorist group has infiltrated Syrian rebel groups, posing a caution against helping them.
"We don't know who our true enemy is, and we don't know who did the gassing," said Clark.
People identifying themselves as tea party or Peace House backers marched down Central Avenue, chanting "No more, no war," and presented antiwar petitions at the offices of Walden and Wyden.
Walden's staff told the protesters the congressman had announced his opposition two days ago. Wyden's office was closed, but courthouse marshals said they would deliver the petitions.
Donald Morris of Veterans for Peace said in an interview that he served in Vietnam and worked in intelligence with the Defense Department for 23 years, and rarely did he see accurate intelligence from the field reach politicians without being greatly changed.
"They hear what they want to hear," he said.
Carrying a sign that said, "Bomb them with love," Cindy Darnell, a member of Citizens for Peace and Justice and a Central Point resident, said: "The world is shifting to a new paradigm, and the military-industrial complex has not caught up with that fact. We have no idea who the players are over there. It's time we figure out something better to do than bomb people."
"We're too inclined to jump into a military solution," said Jerry Reed of Grants Pass. "It will bankrupt us financially and morally. We can't do anything over there without making it worse — and a big percentage of the rebel force is al-Qaida."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.