---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2002 14:43:57 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Peace Wars
The bitter battle over piloting a campus peace movement that hasn't even
left the ground
BY MATT PALMQUIST
January 16, 2002
On a raw, wind-whipped night in early December, the Berkeley Stop the War
Coalition hosts a teach-in titled "Whither the anti-war movement?" The
question, loaded with an unlikely combination of urgency and weariness, is
cynical; so are the faces of the 50 people who show up to answer it.
Most who trickle into the tiny classroom in UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall are
students, braving lingering colds and looming finals and sporting
backpacks, buttons, and jackets adorned with familiar logos of the
left: raised fists for socialism, green patches for environmentalism, Che
Guevara for generalized revolution. A few aging hippies also file in, one
of them dangling a stopwatch around his neck so he won't violate the
two-minute limit on speaking time. Then there's the middle-aged guy hawking
Workers Vanguard in the doorway. He's a member of the Spartacist League,
the would-be revolutionary group that spouts
the philosophy of Leon Trotsky and the belief, passionate and persistent,
that Afghanistan's best hope for a stable future rested in the Soviet
invasion of 1979. "Hail Red Army!" the league's literature proclaims.
"Extend social gains of the October Revolution to Afghan peoples!"
Although no one's going to throw him out, the Spartacist's presence
provokes palpable scorn. He's not here to plan demonstrations or to suggest
new strategies for building a movement against the war in Afghanistan; he's
here, first and foremost, to pitch his ideology to a more captive audience
than he'd get on the street corner. But he's unlikely to find any recruits
tonight. As the hodgepodge of badges, insignias, and emblems suggests,
these people already belong to groups that don't leave much room for those
with differing ideologies.
The Spartacist, however, will not be denied his sales pitch. After
organizers of the teach-in give a half-hour of updates on the war in
Afghanistan and the latest number of civilians supposedly killed by errant
U.S. bombs ("They do that every day," says one moderator. "Miss things on
purpose so they can kill ordinary people"), the meeting shifts into a
discussion of "where we go from here." The first speaker offers what will
prove to be the evening's most-proposed strategy for expanding the anti-war
effort: more fliers.
Then the Spartacist raises his hand.
"This war is not about terrorism, it's about imperialism," he begins. Aside
from one moment of comic relief ("The best hope for the women in
Afghanistan was the Russian Army in 1917 -- I mean, 1979") his speech is
more antagonistic than anti-war. He snipes at rival socialist groups,
derides Democrats as the "class enemy," and concludes his tirade with the
expected hard sell for the Spartacist way of life: "Joining forces with the
working class in the fight for proletarian revolution is the only way to
end capitalist oppression."
As he sits down, a dozen hands spring up. The Spartacist, by uttering the
magic words "imperialism" and "capitalism," has let the genie out of the
bottle. From this point on, the teach-in becomes an argument.
On one side are those who think the anti-war movement should embrace the
tenets of anti-capitalism, as evinced by the 1999 protests in Seattle of
the World Trade Organization. The stunning success of Seattle, a golden
moment when Turtles marched with Teamsters and petty party differences were
brushed aside for the sake of a greater cause, owed much to surprise and
serendipity; no one, not those comprising the semispontaneous union of
environmentalists, labor leaders, communists, socialists, and anarchists
who were protesting, nor the police who responded, understood the moment's
power until it was past. Of course, preventing delegates from reaching
conference rooms is a relatively modest goal, and one all participating
leftists could agree on. Seattle's success, as pure protest, has not been
replicated; among other things, law enforcement agencies have become more
vigilant when world economic leaders meet. But it did spawn global justice
campaigns nationwide, and they thrive especially on campuses, where
movements to close sweatshops and raise janitors' wages serve as many a
young leftist's introduction to raising hell.
But inconveniencing businessmen is not stopping a war, and not everyone in
the student anti-war movement is convinced that it should rush down the
aisle with the Turtles Who Took Seattle. Some of the most vocal anti-war
protesters, after all, love the United States and hope to thrive within its
economic system. Plus, as one student at the teach-in puts it: "If you go
up to people on the street and tell them we should stop the war because the
United States is an evil imperialist empire, people will discount it out of
hand, just because of the words you're using. That's not the course we
"The anti-capitalist movement already has an anti-war contingent," counters
another. "This is a ready-made movement that we have to inject an anti-war
movement into. If you want numbers, there they are."
After an hour of circular argument that likely doesn't change the opinion
of a single person, and certainly doesn't produce a new plan for building
the anti-war movement, a latecomer slides into the back row and whispers,
"Why are we having this discussion again?"
Although American anti-war sentiment is most closely associated with the
Vietnam War, its roots trace to the Quakers, early European colonists who
objected to war as a matter of Christian principle and faced
Puritan persecution when they wouldn't fight Native Americans. Indeed, each
of the country's major conflicts garnered its share of dissent. The
Revolutionary War was opposed by Tories, or American colonists loyal to the
British crown; the Civil War had its "copperheads," a derogatory term for
Northerners sympathetic to the South; and during World War I, socialists,
pacifists, and labor leaders formed the core of a sustained anti-war
effort. World War II peace activists focused on protecting the rights of
conscientious objectors; by the end of the Korean War, when the Chinese
entered and American soldiers began dying in greater numbers, two-thirds of
Americans thought the United States should pull out.
Vietnam, of course, saw the full flowering of the anti-war movement,
although not at first. Only when televisions began beaming Southeast Asian
firefights into American living rooms, and as the alternative press formed
to document pro-peace sentiment ignored by the mainstream media, did
opposition explode nationwide to a conflict that had been dragging on,
officially, since Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.
Protests of the Vietnam War embraced a varied constituency, but much of the
drive came from college students. In 1967, the newly formed Students for a
Democratic Society openly accused the United States of imperialist greed,
calling for a revolution against the military-industrial complex. The
anti-war movement gained martyrs at Kent State, when four students were
killed by members of the Ohio National Guard at an anti-war protest.
Opposition to the Persian Gulf War formed much more quickly, but the
conflict's short duration, just six weeks of bombing and a four-day ground
assault, didn't give the movement much time to gather steam. As in Vietnam,
however, college students weighed in with large-scale demonstrations and
Blooming faster than even the Persian Gulf War protests, the pro-peace
response to Sept. 11 began before President Bush publicly spoke the word
"war" in connection with the attacks. With the World Trade Center towers
still smoldering, leftist groups began organizing peace demonstrations in
anticipation of a war; in San Francisco, 10,000 people converged on Dolores
Park for a rally on Sept. 29, more than a week before bombing in
Afghanistan commenced. When the bombs did start falling, the anti-war
movement surged slightly; but it sagged as soon as the bombing raids
decreased and the Taliban fled.
That initial anti-war response was fueled in large part by established
protest groups like the International Socialist Organization, a major
sponsor of the Dolores Park rally, that could draw quickly on their members
to whip up publicity, speakers, and large crowds for demonstrations.
Accordingly, campus leftists also wanted to quickly shift gears and
concentrate on the budding anti-war effort; indeed, the first meeting of
the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, which drew 250 people, had been
scheduled as an anti-globalization meeting until organizers changed the
topic after Sept. 11. And since that first meeting, the coalition has
tried hard to ensure the UC Berkeley campus lives up to its reputation as
the school for anti-war activism.
Advocating an end to the bombing in Afghanistan, the defense of civil
liberties at home, and the prevention of racist scapegoating around the
world, the group has sponsored countless rallies and teach-ins, organized a
march through downtown Berkeley that drew thousands, and hosted an anti-war
conference for more than 60 other West Coast colleges. In the process, many
of the coalition's members have become symbols of the fledgling movement,
quoted in national media outlets as experts on campus anti-war activism. As
third-year English student and coalition member Maryam Gharavi puts it:
"Berkeley has historically been looked at as a model for anti-war
movements, and everyone is looking for a response from Berkeley to gauge
the student response to the war across the country. That's definitely a
responsibility, one that a lot of people here don't want to shy away from."
With Bush's approval rating still soaring and most Americans standing
firmly behind the war, activists know they face a daunting task in changing
the mainstream's mind- set. But for the past two months, as the world has
watched and waited for the next target in the Bush administration's war on
terrorism, the Berkeley coalition, like many of its brethren nationwide has
focused less on changing public attitudes and more on its own internal
Because of the left's general distrust of hierarchy and authority, many
component groups have been allowed a say in the direction of the anti-war
coalition. But endless discussions about whether the socialist and anti-war
movements are one and the same don't put marchers on the streets or
newsletters in pedestrians' hands. Infighting has becoming increasingly
nasty, personal, and routine, with groups within the coalition accusing
each other of manipulating the agenda for their own gain. The International
Socialist Organization in particular has come under fire at Berkeley and
nationwide for its organizing methods, with many activists accusing the ISO
of using the anti-war movement as little more than a recruiting tool.
Some activists say the internal discussion is healthy, a frustrating,
necessary, and typical phase in building any cohesive large-scale movement,
especially one that seeks to replicate, for the first time on a nationwide
scale, the cross-ideological alliances of Seattle. They also point out that
the current anti- war movement has responded much more quickly and capably
than similar efforts during the Vietnam and Persian Gulf War eras.
Others, however, express surprise and disgust that, while American bombs
are still falling in Afghanistan, the anti-war movement seems in danger of
morphing into a discussion group for foreign policy wonks
of the extreme left. "If the ISO wants to hijack the movement, fine. As
long as the movement is effective," says Christopher Cantor, a graduate
student at Berkeley and active member of the coalition. "I've heard
plenty of incriminating friend-of-a-friend stories, and if they're true, I
really think there's a problem. But no one addresses it head-on, because
they don't want to seem like they're red-baiting or attacking anyone. So
the issue of why we're disorganized is tabled, and the fact that we're
disorganized definitely serves the interest of someone who wants to co-opt
"The first step is realizing we have a problem, and we haven't even done
Allegations of power-grabbing and Orwellian tactics are nothing new to the
International Socialist Organization.
Established in the late 1970s, the ISO touts the revolutionary Marxist
viewpoint that the working classes, both blue-collar and white-collar, must
rise up to destroy the capitalist system and replace it with a
democratic mechanism for the distribution and production of wealth. But
rather than target unions, the recruiting base of many other socialist
organizations, the ISO has long aimed its organizing efforts at university
students, giving it a nationwide campus presence unrivaled by other
For young protesters seeking to challenge university or community politics,
the ISO is often the only game in town. But with prominence comes
criticism, and the ISO receives plenty. The most common charge: The
organization joins and builds broader causes, such as the anti-war
movement, as an excuse to recruit new members for its eventual worldwide
workers' revolution. Of course, many student anti-war protesters don't
yearn for the same dictatorship of the proletariat envisioned by the ISO,
and they resent the group's attempt to make the peace movement synonymous
with a world socialist revolution.
As proof of the ISO's scope, if not quite its supposedly sinister intent,
campus anti-war conferences held the second week in November in Berkeley,
Chicago, and Boston all unraveled amid similar allegations: The
conferences' agenda-setting sessions, poorly planned and inadequately
explained, had been "hijacked" (not a great choice of words, given the
global context) by the ISO. Specifically, disgruntled agitators complained
that the agenda for decision-making workshops, intended to provide a
national direction for the movement and to plan further large-scale
demonstrations, had been rigged to ensure that the ISO's proposals passed.
Students flocking to the conferences from other schools said they received
no instructions about how the working sessions were supposed to function;
many didn't know what they were voting for, who got to speak, and whether
their complaints about the structural shortcomings made any difference.
Berkeley students admitted that the rush to organize had caused some
glitches in the proceedings and preparations, but insisted that ISO
members, although certainly involved in planning and logistics, had not
whipped up the conference as a thinly disguised recruiting fair.
Nevertheless, the Internet was afire for the next month. Activist after
activist weighed in on the collapse of the three conferences, with Berkeley
getting an extra-hot helping of flame because of its stature in the
anti-war annals. One angry poster to the San Francisco Indymedia site
(http://sf. indymedia.org) wrote: "I just got back from the conference in
Berkeley. It was one of the most awful organizing experiences in my life.
... A lot of our campus groups are controlled by the ISO, and we are still
struggling with how we can make the groups grow and flourish when the
leadership is very tight and has a very narrow agenda."
The ISO, for its part, responded in its Nov. 30 issue of Socialist Worker.
In an article headlined "Democracy or Consensus?" Editor in Chief Alan
Maass dismissed the anti-ISO charges as ""reds-under-the-beds' paranoia."
"What's wrong with socialists participating in the antiwar movement, and
even taking a leading role?" he wrote. "Should we not have opinions? Would
opponents of the war be better off if socialists kept quiet?"
In a phone interview from ISO headquarters in Chicago, Maass again denied
behind-the-scenes manipulation by the group, and said the ISO's notoriety
makes it an easy scapegoat for those frustrated by established groups'
prominence within the anti-war movement. "In no case was the ISO secretly
hoodwinking people into coming to the conferences," he says. "And now this
is really a test, for this movement and any movement: Are we going to be
able to work together?"
Theresa Dang, a UC Santa Barbara student who stormed out of the Berkeley
conference after suspicions of ISO manipulation were raised, phrases it a
bit differently, summing up the challenges of broadening the movement into
regional, and possibly even national, coalitions: "It is not entirely
relevant whether it was the ISO or some other vanguardist group; the point
is that something was very wrong and refusal on the part of the facilitator
and other coordinators to address criticism proved even more problematic,"
she says. "It starts to look like a small group of people deciding what the
rest of us are to do in our own communities, and that is not anything I am
If there's one student who's been at the center of the semester-long strife
at Berkeley, it's Snehal Shingavi.
On Nov. 5, he was a guest on CNN Talkback Livethe midday talk show that
invites its panel of guests, studio audience, and viewers to offer their
opinions on current events, to discuss whether pacifism
is unpatriotic in light of Sept. 11. As one of the more active (and
quotable) members of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition, Shingavi has
expounded on its principal tenets for media outlets nationwide. Indeed, he
spent much of the semester defending the Berkeley City Council's
well-publicized, widely decried resolution against the war.
Accustomed to criticism, Shingavi was still taken aback by the ambush he
received during Talkback Live.
The show begins with Shingavi's earnest explanation of his reasons for
opposing the war, namely, that American bombs have done more harm than good
for starving refugees in Afghanistan. Then the show's
other guest, KSFO conservative commentator Melanie Morgan, offers her
retort: "You know, when I hear opinions expressed like that, I'm glad it's
constitutionally protected. But it just reminds me of how many simple and
dangerously naive people there are in this world."
Colleen, an audience member from Pittsburgh, chimes in: "Basically, my
opinion is that all Americans should be able to speak out with an educated
or uneducated opinion," she tells Joie Chen, the show's
perpetually perky host. "The whole point of going to war is that we have
rights as Americans, and we should be able to speak out for, against, or
Chen immediately picks up on that line of thinking. "Yes, Melanie, I think
Colleen's telling you we can be stupid if we want to be. You can even be
stupid on television. Some of us get paid for it."
Indeed. But when Shingavi takes issue with being labeled "stupid," Chen
clarifies her point and offers her own eloquent argument for going to
war. "Snehal, you are a young man," she says. "There are people who would
say, "Nice guy, but a little naive about all this.' After all, sometimes
you just have to fight bad guys with sometimes things that we don't want to
Later in the show, after Shingavi objects to Morgan's description of Middle
Eastern people"[C]ulturally, the only thing that these people understand
really is who's got the bigger sword"he says he's proud to live in a place
like Berkeley, "in which free speech is not only respected, but ideas are
welcomed. And it's the one place where it has been possible to protest this
And yet, when it comes to attacking the views held by Shingavi, a longtime
member of the ISO, Berkeley has occasionally made CNN Talkback Live look
like an activists' paradise.
Although he says he didn't want the job, Shingavi served as the
much-maligned moderator for the session of the Berkeley anti-war conference
at which half the delegates stormed out and later accused the ISO of
masterminding and manipulating the entire event, controlling who spoke, and
forcing students to vote for ISO-backed proposals (as opposed to those
brought from individual schools). The most controversial proposals included
an ISO-backed plan that, opponents feel, would set voting rules and
committee assignments in ways favorable to the ISO, and a proposal to hold
a national anti-war conference in Chicago, home base for the ISO. In
listservs, Internet postings, and meetings of the anti-war coalition he has
played a huge role in building, Shingavi was portrayed as a dastardly cult
leader whose goal is to brainwash the masses for tomorrow's socialist
The criticism has taken its toll on Shingavi. During the Berkeley Stop the
War Coalition's final meeting of the semester, the group voted to mobilize
for protests against the World Economic Forum in New York, scheduled for
early February. At issue, once again, was whether the anti-war movement
should align itself so explicitly with anti-globalization forces. Near the
end of the meeting, after an hour of familiar pro and con monologues, one
student, perhaps feeling railroaded into approving the New York meeting,
asked the question everyone else was too timid to bring up: What was the
International Socialist Organization's position?
Shingavi flew off the handle, out of his chair, and into a defensive rage,
telling the coalition he was sick and tired of responding to these "vicious
charges" charges, in this case, that nobody was making. When the
question-posing student reminded Shingavi that he was merely asking about
the ISO, not accusing it,
Shingavi once again berated coalition members for treating his group as an
outside entity, even though ISO members are some of the most active in the
movement, and said the only reason he remains heavily involved is because
no one else wants to do as much work.
It's this kind of eyebrow-raising behavior that gives the International
Socialist Organization its reputation. All too often, an ISO member doth
indeed protest too much.
But in person, Shingavi comes across as quick-witted, well-read, and
articulate, if highly excitable. He also has a sense of humor ("Everything
that was bad at the conference was apparently done by me," he
says drolly) and an amazing ability to reference the most obscure arguments
and authors of left literature. And if he has many detractors, there are
equally passionate defenders. "People say a lot of stuff about
him, but if he wasn't in this movement, people would miss him like crazy,"
says Viviane Scott, a second-year Berkeley student who defines herself as
"unaffiliated" with established leftist groups. "The same people who say
"Fuck you' would miss him like hell. He works hard, he's educated.
He's so up-to-date. Who else has the time to read a stack of papers every
morning and remember all of it?"
And if Shingavi is truly the scheming, sinister, uber-socialist many people
say he is, he needs a crash course in public relations; of all the coffee
shops in all of Berkeley to meet a reporter for an interview, he picks
Starbucks. ("It's just convenient," explains Shingavi, cloaked in a
nondescript baggy sweat shirt and jeans, a pile of papers spilling across
the table. "Most of the other coffeehouses are out of the way.")
The surprises don't end there. Shingavi says he grew up Republican in a
suburb outside Houston, and even paced the floor of the Republican National
Convention when it was held there in 1992. He dived into left-wing causes
when he arrived at Berkeley three years ago, and has since been involved
with a long list of groups, movements, and activists. "But this has been
the first time I've felt personally implicated in a movement I've been a
part of," says Shingavi, who adds that he's been the subject of death
threats, spitballs, and other forms of harassment when taking the anti-war
movement into the streets. "It's terrifying."
A proud advocate for the International Socialist Organization, he admits
there are things he wishes he could have done differently at the November
conference. But he says the ISO was just one of a number of leftist groups
pushing for their own agendas at the conference, that many of the ISO's
suggestions are routinely voted down, and that most of the infighting stems
from genuine political differences.
"It's not like there's some secret cabal in Chicago that tell us what to
do," he says, in breathless, practiced soundbites that bespeak a semester
spent talking to the media. "I wish there were, it might make it easier for
organizing. But it doesn't happen that way. So much of the criticism was
attributed as political scheming, but nobody said what the political
scheming was. Devious mind-control tactics? I agree that lots of mistakes
were made, but they had more to do with the newness of the movement than
any political masterminding."
The newness of the movement is also the cause of the
capitalist/anti-capitalist split, Shingavi argues. "You've got a range of
political opinions that overlap and force themselves onto each other, but
if you're opposed to what U.S. military intervention does, you should be
in the movement. It may cause a split. Maybe that's what it will take.
Maybe we need splits in the movement before we realize what it is.
"Hell, I'm working with people who hate me, right? If I can continue to
work in this kind of movement, and work with people who are not
anti-capitalists and socialists, which I do on a daily basis, anyone can."
As the executive director of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute and
an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University who teaches a course
on U.S. peace law, Ann Fagan Ginger has spoken to anti-war groups at most
of the major colleges in the Bay Area. She calls the Berkeley coalition's
internal disagreements "some of the narrowest I've seen." She's also
developed an analogy to explain the infighting that threatens to tear the
coalition, such as it is, apart.
"It's like a semicolon," she says. "The most important mission, which is
the need to stop the U.S. actions in Afghanistan, comes before the
semicolon. People can continue to work on other things they were doing,
race discrimination, stopping the death penalty, but that has to come after
the semicolon. It's all connected, it's all one sentence, but you have to
learn to make the purpose of every meeting what comes before the semicolon,
you can't do both in the same room. You can't bring about peace if you
can't learn to respect other people's basic thrusts."
Because of all the clashing agendas, Fagan Ginger predicts that the
anti-war effort will gather widespread steam only when the war begins
directly impacting the movement's component groups, when, for example, the
environmental groups realize the war on terrorism's spread is an imminent
and real threat to the future of the environment and the movement that aims
to protect it. "If we do not get down to business, we could have World War
III here," she says. "Unless they stop the bombing, they're not going to be
able to do the other things after the semicolon."
In terms of building an anti-war movement, the war on terror poses steeper
challenges than were posed by Vietnam. To start, the justification for this
war, brought on by an attack on U.S. soil and U.S. citizens, is
widely viewed as far more palatable, rational, and patriotic than the
relatively theoretical geopolitical reasons advanced for fighting in
Vietnam or the Persian Gulf.
Beyond that, the war on terrorism has seen few Americans killed, few media
outlets challenge the Pentagon's version of events, and most fighting done
by proxies, rather than U.S. soldiers. And many observers say that until
this war has an immediacy akin to Vietnam, when a large number of Americans
knew someone who came home in a body bag, the peace movement may well
remain the province of groups that were already protesting against the U.S.
to begin with.
"What makes this different, of course, is that the United States itself was
attacked," says Stephen Zunes, chairman of the peace and justice program at
the University of San Francisco and a senior policy analyst for the think
tank Foreign Policy in Focus. "Even if I have some sympathies for the
anti-capitalist, pacifist perspective, we were attacked for real and
dangerous reasons, and the movement needs to emphasize the most pragmatic
end of things. They need to acknowledge that there's a clear and present
danger to American security, and the question is, "How do we defend
ourselves?' I don't think it's wrong to raise some of the economic issues,
but I personally find that efforts by certain far-left groups to push their
ideological agenda are kind of distracting."
The left finds itself in a real dilemma, Zunes says. After arguing for
years that policies pursued by the United States in the Middle East would
result in trouble, the left has been proved correct. Now, grappling with
the question of what to do next, the left can either argue an anti-war
stance, still viewed by nine out of 10 Americans as a noncredible position,
or agree that some military action is necessary, thereby fueling the very
policies that the left warned would get the U.S. into this mess.
"It's a very awkward, different situation for the left to be in, and it's
not ultimately the fault of the left," Zunes says. "They have to look at
the pragmatic response, what policies will best serve our legitimate
Needless to say, the folks in the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition don't
accept that analysis. And many remain committed to arguing the
anti-capitalist viewpoint, even if it alienates some people at the outset,
because they believe the momentum that has built around the myriad
anti-globalization forces is too important to ignore.
"It all goes back to the way the economy is framed," says Gharavi, the
third-year English student. "I don't think the argument for anti-capitalism
has been made strongly enough. I'm really glad that people are making this
an issue, because we need to merge these two movements. The economy and the
military work so hand-in-hand, you have to see them in the same
context. And hopefully, when the anti-capitalist movement and the anti-war
movement do come together, it'll almost be a throwback to Seattle."
As dusk falls on a day early in December, Christopher Cantor ends a long
afternoon of anti-war activism marking International Human Rights Day by
handing out newsletters to passers-by on a downtown Berkeley street corner.
"You feel awkward the first time you do it," he confides, predicting with a
shake of his head that an approaching woman, laden with shopping bags and
distracted by her cell phone conversation, won't take a copy of The
Countercurrent, the tract of the Berkeley Stop the War Coalition. "But
you've got a reason to approach people, so the social barrier is gone."
Sure enough, the woman rushes past Cantor into the BART station, acting as
if she doesn't see him or the trio of cops watching warily from the station
entrance. "After a while," Cantor says, dismissing the woman's
obliviousness with a grin, "pride doesn't enter into it."
That's a good thing, because Cantor and the gaggle of anti-war protesters
who have set up tables and unfurled banners outside the busy BART station
aren't getting much response from the public. Aside from a few honks of
support from passing cars and the odd pedestrian who takes a flier and
actually reads it, the public mood is best summed up by an elderly woman
who remarks to no one in particular, "This is the anti-war movement?"
"We're not going to block an intersection or anything," says Cantor, as he
watches his fellow protesters heft signs that read, "Killing innocent
people is the problem, not the solution." "We're not a direct-action
movement yet. We don't have the numbers to do that, and it would be
counterproductive. We're seen as a lunatic fringe as it is. Why add to that?"
As if reinforcing Cantor's point, the protesters on the corner, goaded into
boisterousness by the arrival of a local television news crew, begin
shouting, "One, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war! Five, six,
seven, eight, stop the violence, stop the hate!" Cantor, his tall frame
still swathed in the somber dark suit he wore to portray Attorney General
John Ashcroft in skits staged throughout the day at local coffeehouses,
groans when he hears the chant go up. "I told them not to do that," he
says, the sheaf of anti-war newsletters going limp in his hand. "Nobody
listens to me."
They should. A week later, in one of the coffeehouses where Cantor as
Ashcroft pretended to detain a Muslim-American student, he expounds on his
frustrations with the movement he's spent the semester trying to build.
"I'm not happy with it," he says, his dark eyes studying the half-empty mug
of tea he's been sipping to ward off yet another gray, frigid Berkeley
afternoon. "It often seems we're less liberated than the society we're
trying to liberate. Why are the chants the same as when we bombed Iraq?
We're just regurgitating the same crap we always regurgitate.
"This time was supposed to be different."
Images accompanying this story:
Berkeley student Snehal Shingavi has been protesting the war on terrorism
since Sept. 11.
Berkeley student Christopher Cantor has been protesting the war on
terrorism since Sept. 11.
National Guardsmen watch students at a 1969 protest in Berkeley.
Just nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Berkeley Stop the War
Coalition drew thousands to the streets for a march against the budding war.
The home page of the International Socialist Organization explains the
group's position on a wide variety of far-left issues.
View International Socialist Organization's homepage
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