When a small group of activists showed up at the Air Force Academy in May of 2002 to protest Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was giving the Academy's commencement speech, sheriff's deputies arrested four of them for alleged trespassing. A judge later found the arrest illegal, ruling that the protesters had not trespassed.
On Feb. 15 of last year, when an estimated 15 million people worldwide protested against the impending U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Colorado Springs police used tear gas to disperse the more than 3,000 demonstrators who attended a rally in Palmer Park.
And when defense ministers from 26 countries gathered at The Broadmoor hotel for a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last October, police wouldn't let protesters anywhere near the five-star resort. Citing security concerns, police blocked off public streets within a two-block radius of the hotel, forcing local residents to pass through armed checkpoints.
The activists haven't been deterred, however. On Saturday, local peace groups plan to participate in a "global day of action" marking the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, by holding an anti-war march and rally in downtown Colorado Springs.
Meanwhile, local activists also filed two lawsuits in the past week seeking to challenge the legality of U.S. nuclear missiles and last year's "security zone" around The Broadmoor, respectively.
Like the rally in Palmer Park on Feb. 15, 2003, Saturday's peace march and rally will be part of a series of demonstrations expected to attract hundreds of thousands of protesters in cities across the globe.
However, local organizers don't anticipate a repeat of last year's tear-gas melee. Whereas the 2003 rally drew people from across Colorado, Saturday's event is expected to draw a much smaller crowd of mostly local participants.
"Our modest estimate would just be 100 to 150 people," said Dennis Apuan, an organizer with the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. The commission is co-sponsoring the protest with Students for Social Justice, a group based at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Still, organizers say they are communicating with police and training their own "peacekeepers" for the event.
Activities will actually kick off Friday night with a 7 p.m. benefit concert at the Gill Foundation. On Saturday, a teach-in is scheduled from 8 to 11 a.m., at First Congregational Church. Thereafter, participants will march from the church to Pioneers Park downtown, where they will rally from noon to 2 p.m.
Apuan says the rally, titled, "The World Still Says 'No' to War," will reiterate the peace movement's continued opposition to the occupation of Iraq. Activists will demand the return of U.S. troops, who they say were sent into war based on false claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. They will also ask that the U.S. government redirect its resources from fighting wars to providing jobs, housing and healthcare for Americans.
"Our troops are really fighting a war which is based on lies and deception," Apuan said.
Speaking of weapons of mass destruction, many of the same activists involved with Saturday's protest also went to court last week seeking to challenge the legality of the U.S. nuclear arsenal controlled by Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.
Represented by local attorney Bill Durland, the local organization Citizens for Peace in Space and 11 individuals filed suit in U.S. District Court in Denver against Gen. Lance Lord of the Space Command, as well as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
The Space Command controls some 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles, outfitted with nuclear warheads, in silos scattered across Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Each of the weapons, which are on constant alert, has the capacity to reach its target in 30 minutes, taking out an entire city, the lawsuit notes. The Space Command is currently planning to upgrade the arsenal.
The use of nuclear weapons is considered illegal under international laws and treaties, which are recognized as U.S. law. Some legal scholars also argue that the mere possession of such weapons is illegal.
Arguing that the missiles "pose an immediate danger of global catastrophe," the lawsuit asked U.S. District Court Judge Zita Weinshienk to bar the military "from continuing to work on the planning, development or use of existing or new nuclear armed [missiles] at Peterson Air Force Base."
However, Weinshienk on Monday threw out the case without even waiting for a response from the military, saying she saw no evidence of any imminent danger that would necessitate an injunction.
Representatives for the Air Force Space Command and the Department of Defense declined to comment.
Security zone not reasonable
Meanwhile, peace activists are optimistic they will get further with another lawsuit, filed Monday, which challenges the legality of the "security zone" that was established during the NATO summit.
The Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit against the city of Colorado Springs on behalf of six members of Citizens for Peace in Space.
The ACLU wrote to the city last year on behalf of the six local activists, asking that they be granted permission to demonstrate inside the zone. The city denied the request.
Mari Newman, an attorney working with the ACLU, said the activists' right to free speech was violated because they were unable to demonstrate in a location where participants in the NATO summit might have been able to see them.
The lawsuit cites several precedents, including a case from a federal court in California in which a judge struck down plans to establish a similar "security zone" to protect the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. The judge in the California case ordered that protesters be allowed to rally outside the convention center.
Lori Miskel, the city's litigation attorney, said Tuesday she couldn't comment because the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit.
However, in the city's original response to the ACLU last October, Miskel said courts have ruled that "in the face of a compelling state interest, the government can impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expressive activities ... so long as the means chosen are not substantially broader than necessary to achieve the government's interest."
Blocking off a large area around The Broadmoor, Miskel argued, was necessary "to ensure the safety of the NATO delegates and other attendees of the conference."
Newman, however, said barring activists from rallying anywhere near the hotel was not a "reasonable" restriction.
"The whole point of the right to free speech is, you have to be allowed to engage in free speech in a way that people can actually hear you," Newman said. "Having these people be allowed to protest only three blocks away, near a ditch, behind a bunch of trees, hardly makes the right to free speech meaningful."
The lawsuit asks the city to pay "nominal" damages, such as court costs and attorneys fees.
Benefit concert featuring George Mann and Julius Margolin Gill Foundation, 315 E. Costilla St. Friday, March 19 at 7 p.m. $5 suggested donation
Teach-in First Congregational Church, 20 E. St. Vrain St. Saturday, March 20, 8 a.m. coffee and registration, 9-11 a.m. lectures
March to the rally From First Congregational Church to Pioneers Park Saturday, March 20, 11 a.m.
Global Day of Action Peace Rally Pioneers Park (at Pioneers Museum, 215 S. Tejon St.) Noon to 2 p.m.
For information or reservations, call 632-6189.