The spring of 2003 wasn't an easy time to work for a liberal newspaper in Central Florida. The Bush administration was revving up to its predetermined invasion of Iraq. And though millions worldwide were pouring into the streets in protest, here the voices of dissent were relatively few and easily shouted down.
On the day the war began in earnest, I was walking past a certain bar and grill on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park. I looked up, and I saw that its marquee now read, "Go America; dropping warheads on foreheads."
For weeks, Orlando Weekly had been laying out its case against the war. Our insight into the situation was hardly unique; we were simply as up on our Seymour Hersh as the next guy. But thanks to the courage of then-editor Bob Whitby, our opposition was clear and steadfast. Our reasons included some that are heard frequently today (like the risk of destabilizing the Middle East) and others that, while even more important, have never gotten as much play (like the nagging fact that an unprovoked attack on another sovereign nation is a war crime). As I recall, on the week that America's military received the go order, our paper's front cover carried the tagline, "Neither shocked nor awed."
The Weekly paid a price for its stance. Many local businesses called our circulation department and demanded that we remove our papers from their premises. Some were incensed at our alleged lack of patriotism; others merely shrank from being associated with such a "controversial" viewpoint. Through it all, our position never wavered. And if the powers that be on the business side secretly wished we would knock it off and stop causing trouble, it never filtered down to those of us in the editorial bullpen. I have never been prouder to be part of this organization – which means that, by the transitive property, I have never been prouder to hold any job.
Just as it was impossible then to claim especial wisdom regarding Iraq, it's inappropriate now to take any pleasure in having been proved right. Only a churl cries, "Called it!" when the cost is half a million dead and counting. Still, it satisfies me deeply to know that, almost 13 years later, Orlando Weekly is still going strong, still a voice for progressive humanism in this community and beyond. Oh, and that aforementioned Winter Park watering hole? Out of business, and for some time now. Maybe they went bust from all the veterans' discounts.