Dozens of people flocked to Mountain View's U.S. Army Career Center on Friday to stage a protest -- some to protest the presence of military recruiters in Mountain View, others to protest the protesters.
Taking their cue from this week's controversy in Berkeley over military recruiters there -- a story which drew national attention, right-wing ire and a debate in Congress -- local anti-war groups Mountain View Voices for Peace and the Raging Grannies, along with the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center in Palo Alto, organized the event.
The decision to protest was made in part because recruiters are "invading our schools" and "not telling the truth" to young recruits, explained raging granny Gail Sredanovic, who wore a sign reading "Career counselor." The Army Career Center, located in a strip mall at El Camino Real and Grant Road, opened in January.
Earlier Friday morning, the center's station commander, Sgt. 1st Class John C. Hunn, said the center previously was located in Sunnyvale, but that the new location provided better visibility. The fact that a protest was held there proved the point, he said.
"They absolutely do not impede us," he said about the protesters. "It's free publicity for us.
"It actually causes more business for us," he added, because the "hardcore" war supporters learn about the place and drop in.
During the protest, Army recruiters stood guard behind the locked door, watching as protesters waved signs with messages like "Recruiters out of Mountain View." The Grannies sang protest songs, and occasionally an argument would erupt between the anti-war protesters and those who said they were there to support the troops.
There were no arrests, but two minor incidents. In the first incident, a member of the Raging Grannies poked a man with her finger and then quickly left, witnesses said, when the man called the police.
In the second incident, a man walking by on the sidewalk reportedly brushed against Sredanovic, pushing her and yelling, "Clear the sidewalk!" The man left, and Sredanovic later filed a report with police.
The protesters and counter-protesters engaged in mostly polite, but sometimes heated, discussions about the war in the Iraq. Janessa Rhodes of San Jose, the mother of an Army sergeant working inside the recruiting office, said that one protester was verbally abusive, calling her a crude name.
"Hate Bush, hate the war, but don't hate my son," Rhodes said, adding that "I don't like Bush and I don't like the war in Iraq."
Her son, Sgt. Sean Plunkett, served in Iraq and was now working in the recruiting office.
"They don't have a choice," Rhodes said of her son and other recruiters, noting that they were assigned to work there.
While Robbie Hansen, whose son is in the Army, was talking about her son to the press, an anti-war protester challenged her on the contention that they don't care about the troops.
"You don't think I care about your son?" he said.
"You don't know my son, you can't speak for my son," Hansen said.
Another counter-demonstrator, Jean Browne of Santa Clara, carried a large photograph of her daughter, an Air Force staff sergeant serving her third tour of duty in Iraq.
"We're very proud of her," Browne said.
Sredanovic accused recruiters of being deceptive with recruits, often targeting young Latinos and having them sign contracts without fully disclosing what the recruits are getting into.
"They're told they'll get money for college but very few get the maximum amount, and they have to serve extra time to qualify," she said.
"We don't hate the military for the awful things they do, because they're under tremendous pressure," she added. "We have deep, deep, deep concerns."
There were also several people from Los Altos Voices for Peace at the demonstration, holding a banner and placards.
"We objected to the war before it started," said Ray Schuster. "Recruitment is needed to keep troop levels up. Starve the beast in Iraq and maybe that will hasten the end of the war."
"The question is how to get out," said Jim Nystrom. A former Palo Alto resident who lives in Sunnyvale, Nystrom carried a large American flag and a placard calling for an increase in the defense budget. His dog, Maggie, a black Labrador mix, was friendly to people on both sides of the debate.