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Friendly Skies? 

by JACOB H. FRIES & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & n Saturday morning, Nancy Nelson arrived at the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane offices wearing a shirt that said, "Peace takes guts." It immediately caught the eye of one man who asked aloud: Why does it take guts?





"Cuz any sucker will go to war, as we've seen," 62-year-old Nelson answered.





Nelson's husband, Rusty, was inside the PJALS office pulling out handmade signs for a small group of activists planning to protest the weekend's Skyfest air show featuring the Blue Angels. To the protesters, the show constituted an appalling waste of fuel in an era of $4-a-gallon gas; a circus-like spectacle glamorizing war machines; and, considering the date (Aug. 9), an offensive way to mark the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing that killed tens of thousands of Japanese in 1945.





The activists -- ranging in ages from 24 to 73 -- knew they would be making themselves targets for vitriolic, verbal attacks, if not worse. As the group got ready to depart for Fairchild, a man confided to another protester, "I'm concerned, but I'm not afraid." Nelson asked the group to huddle up before leaving. "Remember, everybody, that the goal of nonviolence is to convert, not to defeat," she said. "Translated: Please keep your mouth shut if people tell you to go to hell."





The protesters carpooled to Fairchild, parked in a gravel road nearby and walked to the intersection in front of base, planning to wave at cars backed up for the show. A state patrol cruiser pulled up within seconds. Sgt. Jim Hays got out.





"You've got to clear the right of way," Hays said, suggesting they walk into the wheat field lining the highway (which is also below drivers' line of sight). "You've got to go to the other side of the light pole, onto private property. It's going to be busy."





Out of Hays' earshot, Nancy Nelson suggested the group march once across Highway 2, in the crosswalk, before finding another spot. But when they reached the other side, they decided to stay put on the southwest corner of the intersection, in full view of all air show spectators turning into the base. Hays returned moments later and, apparently uninterested in pressing the issue, told the protesters not to cross the railroad tracks a few feet away. "That's base property."





The battle won, the group promised to be good and raised their placards to traffic. Cars were backed up for a mile or more. Greg Youmans, a 50-year-old musician, balanced a sign on his head. It read: "Good little militarists. Enjoy the show. Enjoy your war, the blood, the bad economy or try [peace sign] for the good life."





Cars and trucks turning into the base often slowed as they rolled by the protesters. People inside could be seen shaking their heads, signaling thumbs down or flipping the bird. Others rolled down their windows to share a thought or two as they inched along.





"F--- you!" was one of the first remarks heard, and it would be heard many more times, in colorful variations. "F--- you and the horse you rode in on!"





Nelson kept a running tally: In about 15 minutes, she'd seen 10 middle fingers. It's nothing these activists haven't dealt with before. At one point, Marianne Torres, 63, waved back to a motorist manually showing his displeasure.





"I waved to him, Nancy, but it was so hard," Torres told Nelson.





"You waved all five fingers?" Nelson asked.





"Yeah."





"Good girl!"





"As Rusty says," Torres added, "they're halfway there [to making a peace sign]."





Later, a woman driving an SUV screeched in front of the protesters, rolled down the window and said angrily that the young girl in the passenger seat was an Iraqi refugee. Then someone screamed, "Go home, you pieces of shit." Later: "Go to Russia." Then: "Loser."





Rusty Nelson, 64, a Vietnam Veteran and PJALS director, shook his head at the sight of thousands of cars lined up. What a terrible day for an air show, he said. "I think both Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be mourned by the American people as the worst war crimes we've ever committed," he said. "This is a circus. This is distraction."





On base, after parking, people lined up to go through security checks. Dan Thorpe, 27, waited with his 2-year-old son Cole. Why had he come? "Just having fun with the kids and seeing all the U.S. military might," he said.





Thorpe said he saw the protesters and shouted "God bless America" when he drove by. "They shouted their stuff, so we shouted ours. That's the way it is ..." Thorpe's voice trailed off and he turned his eyes skyward. A huge plane roared overhead. "Wow, look at that!"





jacobf@inlander.com
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