---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002 15:53:48 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: War on terror stirs new activism
War on terror stirs new activism
Protesters filter concerns through lens of outrage over 9/11 attacks
By ALLAN TURNER
April 14, 2002
Maybe it is just as well that George Reiter and Ralph Chesney never have met.
Reiter, a University of Houston physics professor, Green Party candidate
for Congress and one-time organizer of Vietnam War protests, is a blunt
critic of President Bush's war on terrorism. His message: The war is
ill-advised, brutal and ineffective.
Chesney, a barrel-chested and lavishly tattooed Vietnam vet, has a message,
too. Directed at people like Reiter, it can't be printed.
Opinion polls consistently show overwhelming support for Bush's policies in
the Middle East -- 87 percent favored the war in a late-January CBS/New
York Times sampling. But as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks begin their
retreat into history, a small but vocal anti-war movement is emerging.
The new activists, many of them not even born at the time of the Vietnam
War, range from religious pacifists to revolutionary Marxists. And while
they oppose a military operation Vice President Cheney has conceded "may
never end," they express outrage at the September attacks and vow the
perpetrators should be brought to justice, albeit through world courts, not
on the battlefield.
In February, more than 1,000 Houstonians packed a Heights-area peace
festival to donate more than $1,000 for medical aid to Afghan civilians.
More than 15 anti-war groups participated in the event, which organizers
hailed as a political awakening for the city's artists, writers and musicians.
This week, protests will burst upon the national stage with a Saturday
march on the nation's Capitol that police expect will draw as many as
20,000 demonstrators. Secondary protests around the country will include,
in Houston, a sunrise prayer vigil on the grounds of Rothko Chapel and an
afternoon rally at an as yet unannounced location.
Washington demonstrators, at least two busloads of Houston activists among
them, will demand a U.S. foreign policy based on "social and economic
justice, not military and corporate oppression," funds for economic victims
of the September attacks, an end to military recruitment targeting minority
and working-class youth, and a halt to "degrading and secret imprisonment
"Our fundamental message is that we need to address poverty and the other
roots of terrorism," said Nopur Modi, 23, of Sugar Land, a coordinator of
the Washington march. "We can't fight terror with terror."
Led by student and youth organizations formed in the aftermath of the
September attacks, the march has been endorsed by more than 300 groups,
including Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the American Friends Service
Committee, Grandmothers for Peace International of Elk Grove, Calif.,
Queers for Racial and Economic Justice, and the Nude Forest Frolicking
Party of America, a North Carolina organization with 30 members.
"I think for the people going, it's an expression of their fundamental
humanity," Reiter said. "This is who we are, and we are opposed to this
treatment of the rest of the world. The administration has made it clear
this will not stop with the Afghans.
"Well, there is opposition here and we're not going away."
"The important thing," added Bob Buzzanco, a University of Houston history
professor who plans to attend the march, "is to give people a sense of
community. The Bush administration has said you're either with them or with
the terrorists. I think a lot of people feel isolated and afraid."
Longtime Houston Green Party activist David Cobb, a candidate for Texas
attorney general, predicted this week's protests will prove to be "the
early stages of a social justice movement in this country that we haven't
seen in 20 or 30 years."
"Bush's proclaimed 'war on terrorism' is really a war on American civil
liberties," he said. "We have a president who was not elected but appointed
by the Supreme Court in violation of the U.S. Constitution. He's engaged in
unlawful, unethical foreign policy, illegally arresting immigrants and some
citizens, and bombing civilians.
"Dropping bombs on 3,500 civilians has done nothing to address root
problems and did nothing to prevent future attacks.
Cheney and Bush are the ones predicting the war will go on forever, and
that's outrageous. ... This war on terrorism is cloaked in patriotism, when
in fact it is a cynical attempt to solidify corporate control of our
government and government policies." The Associated Press places Afghan
civilian casualties at about 600.
Robert Williams, a member of People Against Oppression and War and an
organizer of the February Houston peace festival, said the organizers,
financiers and perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks should have been
arrested through multinational intelligence efforts and tried as criminals.
"There's a whole body of domestic and international law to deal with these
things," he said.
"Early on, Bush tried to frame the attacks as an act of war. There are many
reasons the administration did that. I believe war should be the last, the
last, the very last means of achieving one's goal."
Frances Isbel, a leader of the Houston Live Oaks Friends Meeting, reflected
the diversity within the anti-war community. She agreed military action in
Afghanistan was unwise but she was hard-pressed to offer an alternative.
"Quakers have a fundamental belief that God's work can never be done with
violence," she said. "That, of course, drives our peace testimony.
"Sept. 11 was complicated for Quakers on a practical and spiritual level.
Most people struggle with trying to understand the consequences of not
taking action. While waiting for the perfect answer, 6 million people died
in the Holocaust.
"I think that, ultimately, we've only escalated the situation. How easy is
that to say to someone who has lost a loved one on Sept. 11? There's a
difference in not believing in capital punishment and in wanting to kill
someone who just killed your daughter. I don't believe the action we took
will lead to an answer to the situation, but, what should we have done? I
David Smith, a College of the Mainland political science professor, avowed
Marxist and co-coordinator of the Houston-to-Washington bus trip, said
military action in Afghanistan "will not make our people safer."
"In a nutshell, the United States has toppled the Taliban, which had no
direct connection with the Sept. 11 attacks," he said.
"As a researcher, I can tell you that the deepest roots of the al-Qaida
network, if indeed they are responsible, are found in Saudi Arabia and
Egypt, two of our allies."
For security from future terrorist attacks, Smith contended, the United
States needs to revise its foreign policy.
"I don't think most of the Muslim or Arab people hate the U.S. people," he
said, "but they are furious about the U.S. military presence in the Persian
Gulf, its support for the kingdoms in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, the U.S.
support of sanctions against Iraq, which have killed more than 1 million in
the last decade.
"We really need a foreign policy that is more driven by a commitment to
real peace with justice and less by giant oil interests."
Despite the chilling effect Sept. 11 had on public discussion of these
issues, activists believe the time is ripe for dissent.
Buzzanco, an expert on the Vietnam era, formed the Houston Global Awareness
Collective last summer in an effort to foment political discussion among
his university students.
"Sept. 11 changed everything," he said. "It created a whole new timeline.
Doing anything by way of protest became more difficult.
"We would just have a teach-in with 200 people, and people would come up
and say, 'God, it's nice to hear that others have the same fear.' I find
that when you talk to people, you'll find them willing to listen. Some
people on both sides are rabid, and I do get a lot of hate mail. But I get
more that says, ^A'Good job! I'm glad you said that.' "
Reiter, who 33 years ago helped organize the first anti-Vietnam War march
in Orange County, Calif., tapped similar sentiment in just talking with
people on the street.
"There is much deeper dissatisfaction with the political system as a whole
now than back then" in the Vietnam era, he said.
"Last time, we had arguments over whether the government was telling the
truth. Now people know the government lies.
There's a depth to the opposition now. There are all kinds of groups
putting out good information and good research."
Whether such protests will shape public opinion or government policy
remains in question.
Rice University political science professor Richard Stoll noted Bush's war
on terrorism has wide public support, and doubted protesters, especially if
espousing other unpopular causes, will have much impact.
"First of all, if you look at Vietnam," he said, "what drove down support
for the war wasn't protest, but the level of American casualties. We
thankfully are dealing with very few American deaths in Afghanistan.
"Number two, at many points in the Vietnam War, the public questioned why
we were there, why it was important?" Most Americans, he said, understand
why responding to the Sept. 11 attacks was important.
Regardless of how receptive the general public is to anti-war messages,
protesters' arguments were brusquely dismissed by Chesney and his friend
Don Lowe, an ex-Marine.
Asked about his opinion of war critics, Chesney blurted out an uncouth
suggestion. Then he added, "They can do the same thing those Vietnam
protesters could do. Send them over there. Let them live with those people."
Conciliatory, Lowe offered that even war protesters are guaranteed freedom
of speech. And Chesney, learning that the protesters shared his anger about
the Sept. 11 attacks, softened.
His family had a military background, he explained, and he was angry about
the way some Vietnam War activists had insulted returning veterans. Chesney
spent two tours in Vietnam on a Navy construction crew.
"I told my officer, 'If anybody spits on me when I get back, I'm going to
stomp his butt,' " Chesney remembered. "He just said, 'I won't see nothing.' "
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