She’s still out there.
Rallying the anti-war troops for a vigil last week at the corner of King and Calhoun streets, Merrill Chapman stood at the same spot where former Police Chief Reuben Greenberg once called her fat and crazy for the whole world to hear during another, mostly-forgotten protest.
The cars still honk, and the pickups still jeer, but Chapman hasn’t wavered: the war in Iraq is still wrong.
Last week, the Bush administration was on a losing streak. The milestone of 2,000 Americans killed in Iraq was met. The president’s right-hand woman, Harriet Miers, withdrew as a Supreme Court nominee. More fallout from the inept Hurricane Katrina relief response continued to bloom.
And the noose tightened around all the president’s men as a federal prosecutor indicted the veep’s chief of staff, “Scooter” Libby, in part of an ongoing investigation into the leaking of an undercover CIA agent’s identity — and if the identity was leaked by someone in the White House as political revenge for the agent’s husband publicly contradicting the administration’s case for war in Iraq.
But all that was cold comfort for Chapman, the housewife turned firebrand, whose political engine was turned on four years ago when, in her words, President George W. Bush “crushed the moment that was supposed to bring us together as a country after 9-11 with his social conservatism.”
“I don’t feel any vindication,” says Chapman, the head of local peace group Thinking People. “What is there to be vindicated about — being right about something so wrong?”
“I’d love to be wrong in this instance,” she says, sitting on a bench surrounding the Rotary Club fountain at Marion Square, leaning against a backrest inscribed with the club’s third “test,” “Will it build good will and better friendship?”
In the background, college-aged boys play football and soccer in the park’s various quadrangles, seemingly oblivious to her protest. On one bench sits a pair of empty G.I. boots, surrounded by candles of all sizes and shapes.
“This isn’t about the job the president is doing; it’s about protecting the Americans that are dying over there by bringing them home,” says Chapman, who says she grieves for each of the 2,000 families “crushed and devastated” by this dusty war of attrition.
She also says this anti-war protest has nothing to do with her other campaigns, like the ones she is leading locally against Wal-Mart and the Patriot Act.
“Some of the people out here don’t want to hear about that,” she laughs, significantly less jolly-looking since losing much of the weight Greenberg so cruelly chided her about. “This is not about being on my side, or on the ‘right’ or the ‘left.'”
Chapman says that while the jeers still come from passersby, as do the thrown bottles of beer, she has begun hearing more and more whispers of support over the past four years she’s been leading vigils like this one. And while some of those whispers blossom into anti-war foot soldiers, others are still wary.
“Some people are still uncomfortable to come out in public like this; they will check out the site to make sure they’re not going to be photographed by police,” she says, of the near-ubiquitous surveillance her protests brought when Greenberg was still in office.
Even her father, who she says has become more conservative in his later years, speaks to her with evident pride about her efforts.
Chapman knows that despite the small victories, the war isn’t over. Literally. So, she plans to continue to rabble-rouse, educate, and protest.
And she plans to still be out there until all our boys (and girls) over there aren’t “over there” anymore.