The corner of 7th and Pearl frequently hosts an assortment of brightly raincoated demonstrators waving a colorful array of anti-war, generally left-leaning protests signs and flags. Today Bruce Davison stands alone.
His shoulder-length grey hair and mustache are neatly kept. He wears a University of Oregon football ball cap and bifocals. In addition to a sign bearing a caricature of Donald Trump there’s a flagpole shoved into the front pocket of his jeans. From it flies the flag of George Washington’s revolutionary guards which bears the motto “Conquer or Die.”
He’s also the only person I’ve spoken to in Eugene’s downtown core on this particular Saturday more than peripherally aware that there’s a war going on in Yemen.
He’s concerned that it’s another in a long line of U.S. embroilments in Middle Eastern conflicts and that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi underscores an ideological divide between U.S. principles and Saudi leadership. Basically, he’s heard about the war in the news and is eager to talk about it.
Among the people I’ve spoken to this is unusual. Shaul Cohen, a University of Oregon professor and co-chair of the peace studies minor was reticent to discuss the conflict citing a lack of knowledge and dated opinions.
A broad survey of patrons and vendors at the Saturday Market reveals an almost complete lack of knowledge.
A woman named Tarynn selling cannabis edibles in the Free Speech Plaza sums up the general response quite well. “I don’t know what it is and I don’t support it. F*ck Trump! You can put that in your article.”
A voter registration volunteer named Fred jokes, “What’s a Yemen?” Then, in a sober tone, “But no, I’m painfully aware of the conflict there.” That’s all he has time to share. Domestic politics are his first priority today. His partner isn’t even aware there’s a war.
Davison too seems more concerned with issues closer to home but, he sees the Yemeni civil war through the lense of U.S. politics. In his opinion this is just the latest example of a pattern of U.S. intervention that goes back to 9/11, or maybe the first Gulf War when he started protesting, or maybe back to the interbellum of the 1920s. “Somewhere along the line,” he explains, “our country decided that oil was the magical element to staying continually in power. Wherever it is we have our claws in it.”
U.S. support to Saudi Arabia, he explains, isn’t ideological but driven by a need for oil and their willingness to buy and expend American made munitions.
His views aren’t altogether different from those of the other people I spoke to. He’s unhappy with how the U.S.government does business. However, he recognizes that people in Yemen and around the world are just as susceptible to the follies of our government, perhaps even moreso.