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Bush Dedication Draws Dissent: Protests Against Library Opening Planned

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by Ayen Bior

The Bush Center on the SMU campus has sparked intense dialogue since the project was proposed in 2006. With the center’s completion and dedication set for April 25, protestors say they will be there to voice their concerns against what they say are the failures of the Bush administration.

Harris is a mother of three.  She has represented her children on the PTA board, in classrooms as a French teacher, and on the sidelines of her daughter’s soccer games near her home in Dallas. But today she stands in protest of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

“I never imagined that I would someday leave to my children a world where torture and a world where aggression are normalized,” said Harris.

That reasoning is what compelled her to become a grassroots organizer for The People’s Response, a national organization based in Dallas.  TPR is a coalition of groups and individuals who advocate for accountability of government officials, corporations, and those in positions of power.  Members plan to protest the dedication of the presidential center on April 25.

Harris said The People’s Response has organized a week’s worth of events around the opening.  The group, which has more than 400 people registered and is expecting more, will host movie screenings at the Angelika Film Center, which is located on the opposite side of the highway from the presidential center.  They will also hold speaking engagements, conduct street protests in the form of dramatic theater, and incorporate visuals to attract attention. Despite the group’s inability to protest directly on SMU’s private property, Harris hopes members will capture attention around the area to advance their cause.

“After [Bush] was re-elected,” said Harris, “despite leading the country into an illegal war, I realized that voting wasn’t enough, but I didn’t really know what I could do.”

Hannah Abney, the presidential center’s director of media relations, supports the protestors First Amendment rights. “The Bush Center respects the rights of Americans to protest peacefully and to present their views,” she said.

While there may be those who protest the wars started during the Bush administration, Bush Center officials point out that the center has dedicated itself to serving members of the military and their families through its Military Service Initiative, with a special focus on those who were wounded in war. The initiative is centered on two main programs: Team 43 emphasizes the role of sports as a way to help wounded service members get back on their feet. And the Circles of Excellence program unites experts from the military, business, academia, military-focused non-profits, and other institutions to research, develop, and implement new ways to support active-duty and former members of the U.S. military and their families.

Some say that the presidential center could do more.

“We’ll kill 100,000 Iraqi’s, we’ll have 32,000 Americans injured with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. and Fr. William McElvaney. “In the meantime Bush goes on his merry way as a citizen.”

McElvaney is Professor Emeritus of Perkins School of Theology at SMU and is a speaker for The People’s Response. His words are fiery and calculated when it comes to the legacy of President Bush and the establishment of the Presidential Center.

“SMU has chosen acquiescence over accountability, money over morality and loss of national memory over gain of truth in the public square.”

But not everyone at SMU agrees with McElvaney.

“A university, in hosting such a facility, does not endorse the policies of the president’s administration,” said Dr. Matthew Wilson, professor of political science at SMU’s John G. Tower Center.

“Every president,” Wilson said, “should have a library in which the history of his administration can be studied, analyzed, debated, and criticized where appropriate.”

“I just don’t think Bush’s record is worthy of recognition on the SMU campus,” McElvaney said.

McElvaney has been a critic of the center since the university began pursuing the project in 2006.  He and his colleague, Dr. Susanne Johnson, a professor in Perkins School of Theology, were among the first to trigger dialogue about the Bush Institute.  Their 2006 editorial piece for The Daily Campus stimulated discussion within the SMU community and across the nation.

“I don’t know how you overlook all the things that the Bush Administration has done that are immoral and opposed to what the Methodist church stands for,” said McElvaney.

Wilson looks at the dedication from a different angle.

“The decision to host a presidential library, should not be seen as a political or moral one,” he said.  “The University of Texas’s hosting of the LBJ Library is not a statement of support for the Vietnam War.  It is, instead, an endorsement of scholarly inquiry and historical research, and those are unambiguously good no matter where one resides on the moral and political spectrums.”

Dr. Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas, is less understanding.

“One could make the claim that our presidential libraries honor criminals,” he said.

Jensen categorizes the legacy of President Bush as a failure and a crime against peace.  He said the country needs to stop glorifying people and instead have a larger focus on a set of principles.

Jensen, who said he will be supporting The People’s Response from his home in Austin, said his thoughts are not unique to the Bush presidency.  In a phone interview, he said that he would have protested Lyndon B. Johnson’s Presidential Library, which happens to be located within walking distance from his office on UT’s campus.’

Five months before Bush’s re-election in 2004 was a mother inMassachusetts whose son committed suicide after his return from the Iraq war.

“He went to a war, which he did not believe in,” said Joyce Lucey, mother of Cpl. Jeffrey Michael Lucey. “But he went due to his sense of duty to his unit and in doing so he perished.”

Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Jeffrey Lucey took his life at the age of 23 in June 2004.

Lucey and her husband continue to mourn his death. On holidays they go to the cemetery with a cup of Jeffrey’s favorite French vanilla flavored coffee and pour it on his grave.  Afterwards, they go home and set up an empty chair at the table, reminding them of the human cost.

“The families are the collateral costs of war,” said Joyce Lucey. “Our loved ones were used only as objects to be manipulated by a government. Not as loved ones and citizens, but only as objects.”

The Luceys have made plans to travel to Dallas to join The People’s Response to voice their opinions.

“I think our best bet is to try to inform as much of the American public as we can at this time so that people will say we cannot go there again, we cannot allow future presidents to be above the law,” said McElvaney.

McElvaney said he joined The Peoples Response not only to demand accountability and transparency, but also to bring hope for America’s future: “When truth has fallen in the public square, falsehood becomes the memory norm of a people unless a truthful narrative is provided.”

Ayen Bior is a senior journalism major, human rights minor and executive director of SMU Amnesty International. She can be reached at abior@smu.edu

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