---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 06 Oct 2002 21:54:09 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Operation: Peace
Antiwar movement reflects a different America than in past eras, but diverse
allies keep the spirit alive.
By REED JOHNSON
TIMES STAFF WRITER
October 1 2002
"We want to poison your mind," teases the woman with slate-colored hair
outside First Baptist Church in Koreatown. Swathed in natural fibers and
sporting an anti-Dubya button, she's minding a table piled high with books,
pamphlets and stickers decrying the sorry state of the planet--wars,
corporate malfeasance, environmental disasters-in-the-making, and so
on--along with half a dozen copies of the revolutionary rabble-rousings of
Change a few names and haircuts, and the scene could be an outtake from the
American peace movement's tie-dyed past--Berkeley or Chicago, circa
1960-something. But inside the Romanesque-Revival church's packed sanctuary,
a fired-up multilingual L.A. crowd mirrors the complex and rapidly changing
profile of Americans opposed to a new war with Iraq.
As the Bush administration turns up the rhetorical heat on Saddam Hussein
and an anxious world braces for a possible Desert Storm redux, American
peace activists are busy marshaling their own forces. And while the
choreography of dissent sometimes stirs up ghosts of Selma, Vietnam and the
anti-nukes protests of the early 1980s, the current peace movement seems
eager to find a voice and image suited to a very different America than
existed 40 or even 20 years ago.
In that process, some observers say, peace activists are moving beyond a
singular, post-Vietnam cultural stereotype that depicts them as clueless
hippies hopelessly mired in the peacenik past, as apologists for whatever
power-mad dictator is on the prowl, or as cynical trouble-makers of
questionable patriotism whose "fringe" antics give aid and comfort to
America's enemies, as Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has suggested.
"Dissident political activity that's portrayed in this country leads people
to believe that anyone who gets out in the street must be kind of crazy,"
says Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at
Austin, who became a marked man in the Lone Star State last fall after
writing several columns attacking U.S. military policy in Afghanistan.
There was a vague feeling of the torch being passed at First Baptist's
recent two-hour rally, an evening of agitprop theater that mixed old-time
progressive sentiments with a newfound sense of urgency. And if anyone
present was worrying aloud about finding the peace movement's next Martin
Luther King, Tom Hayden or Helen Caldicott, it was drowned out in a
poly-lingual chorus of shared convictions.
Filling the pews of the 1,500-seat church were the movement's traditional
shock troops: trade unionists, middle-age progressives of various creeds,
battle-hardened veterans of the civil rights and Vietnam War struggles. But
clapping and singing alongside them were young anti-globalization activists,
interspersed with many Central American and Asian immigrants, some of whose
countries have suffered their own, albeit less publicized versions of
9/11-style terrorist atrocities.
Many of the speakers and much of the symbolism were familiar. Labor leader
Maria Elena Durazo extolled a union member who perished at the World Trade
Center. Syndicated columnist Bob Scheer chastised Taliban brutality and
Washington demagoguery. Hollywood star Alfre Woodard gave soothing
line-readings from the Koran, the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita. Between
speakers, a mixed-race choir delivered a thin but plucky rendition of "Down
by the Riverside."
But the rally's emotional climax occurred when Kelly Campbell and Barry
Amundson, members of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a
group composed of relatives of 9/11 victims, embraced beneath a giant video
screen where images of the burning twin towers had flashed by moments
earlier. Barry Amundson, 32, is the brother of Craig Amundson, a 28-year-old
Army multimedia specialist who was killed when the hijacked American
Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon; Campbell is his sister-in-law.
Both were in Los Angeles to voice their conviction that the response to last
year's attacks on New York and Washington shouldn't be more mangled bodies
and grieving relatives.
"Join us in a new peace movement," exhorted the Rev. George Regas, catching
the evening's forward-looking tone. "We will change the face of this earth!"
Rising to its feet, the congregation roared its approval.
Less easily pigeonholed than their predecessors, and more reliant on
Internet mailing lists than sloganized placards, today's peace activists are
more globally attuned and media-savvy than the bearded and sandaled legions
of yore, some say.
"Our general argument is the same one: that we've got to find alternatives
to war because we don't like the notion of killing people," says Medea
Benjamin, a former U.N. economist and Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate
whose face was on front pages from New York to Hong Kong last week after she
and a colleague heckled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld while he was
testifying on Capitol Hill.
But her group's message, Benjamin says, "has to be tailored almost on a
daily basis to what is the message of those who want to go to war."
"They have so much more access to the media and to the American people that
we're always on the defensive."
Unfazed by polls that show a majority of Americans would support going to
war with Iraq to stop Saddam Hussein from amassing weapons of mass
destruction, today's activists say their aims aren't that different from
those of previous generations. What's changed is the movement's composition,
focus and tactics, which have been conditioned by a sound-bite culture where
world politics gets simplified and perceptions often rule.
Nonviolence Isn't a Fad
In the calculus of the contemporary peace movement, two numbers have
logarithmic power: 9/11 and the 1960s. The first is a date that no American
will soon forget. The second is a cultural epoch that simply refuses to go
Campbell, co-director of Peaceful Tomorrows, says that while taking part in
marches over the last year she's been taunted by people yelling, "Go back to
the '60s! This is the '90s!" Never mind that the '90s went out with the
Clintons and high-tech start-ups. What Campbell objects to is the hecklers'
presumption that nonviolence is somehow passť, a fad with no more
intellectual staying power than a lava lamp.
"I was born in 1972. I don't appreciate being considered a throwback," says
Campbell, speaking by phone from her Bay Area home. "I don't think war is a
good idea under any circumstances. So partially I believe that nonviolent
alternatives to war are always better. And that doesn't mean doing nothing.
That means taking actions."
While professing their abhorrence of the Iraqi dictator, Peaceful Tomorrows
members have been crisscrossing the country this year preaching nonviolent
alternatives to the Baghdad street-fighting scenarios being aired in
Washington. Some members also have visited Afghanistan to meet with families
who lost loved ones during the U.S. bombing campaign to oust the Taliban
regime and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
Their pacifist stance has surprised and angered those who thought revenge
and retaliation the only sane response to 9/11. But group members say they
don't want their personal tragedies used to justify more bloodshed. "We
don't really want to live with Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq," Campbell
says. "On the other hand, what's the price of killing a whole bunch of other
people to get rid of Saddam Hussein? That is not going to make us any safer
in this country. It is going to promote terrorism, if anything."
Activists acknowledge that "make love, not war" can be a pretty tough sell
when Americans still live in fear of stepping on commercial jetliners or
taking a high-rise elevator. But David Krieger, founder and president of the
Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, predicts that more people
will find the nerve to speak out for peace if war draws nigh.
"Many Americans have felt reasonably comfortable with going after Al Qaeda
and the Taliban," he says, "but I think doubts crept in with the number of
civilians that have been killed in Afghanistan. And I think now, shifting
gears to Iraq, that's a disconnect for many, many people."
Despite the grizzled image some have of it, the peace movement gained new
recruits during the prosperous, relatively peaceful '90s from young people
who came to the cause via environmental and globalization-related issues,
says Jeff Guntzel, 27, co-coordinator of Voices in the Wilderness, a
6-year-old Chicago-based group.
"Some of these folks are experienced in the anti-globalization movement, and
bring a new environmental awareness that we're wanting to build on," he
says. "But it has to go further than that."
Guntzel says that Voices in the Wilderness devotes its resources less to
marching and picketing than to bearing witness to acts of war and human
rights violations. It also tries to be a conduit for anecdotal, firsthand
reports from areas of conflict and strife, the kind of e-mail-like,
personalized reportage that isn't always available from the mass media. "We
want to kind of learn the lesson of the first Gulf War, when there was such
a black hole of information coming on Iraq," Guntzel says.
Since 1996 the group has sponsored four dozen trips to Iraq by members
bearing small quantities of medicine--technically in violation of U.N.
sanctions that bar trade with the regime.
"I had been to a protest here and there, but I was always frustrated by
protests because I felt like it didn't give me the right venue for
discussing an important issue," Guntzel continues. "I'm very anti-slogan."
Looking at this new generation of activists, professor Jensen suggests that
popular perceptions of the peace movement need updating. "There's an image
in people's minds of what a left-progressive political activist is: a young
person with green hair and multiple piercings out in the streets of Seattle
throwing rocks," he says, referring to demonstrations against the World
Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. "These movements are much
more complex, much more deep."
Jensen believes that the current movement against war with Iraq comprises at
least three distinct elements: traditional American peace groups rooted in
faith traditions, such as the Quakers; the left-progressive wing of American
politics; and Muslims and people of Middle Eastern heritage.
So far, he believes, serious, informed debate over the possibility of war
has been stifled by a simplistic mass-media culture and a quiescent
Democratic Party. "No one in the peace movement that I know really looks to
the Democratic Party to kind of carry the banner for a global justice
movement," he says.
Some question whether the American left even functions as the peace
movement's base camp anymore. In an essay in the Aug. 23 issue of the
Nation, Adam Shatz observed that the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath had
created a crisis for the American left, wrecking intellectual friendships
and causing rifts not seen since the McCarthy-Stalin era.
"What the left needs to cultivate is an intelligent synthesis, one that
recognizes that the United States has a role to play in the world while also
warning of an imperial foreign policy," Shatz wrote.
With or without the Democratic Party, the Old Left, the New Left, love
beads, the Port Huron Statement or the collected works of Herbert Marcuse,
the American peace movement has leapt into the post-9/11 political fray. And
what's wrong, some ask, with having a peace movement that's made up of many
different pieces and no clear leaders or spokespersons?
Krieger, briefly at home in Santa Barbara last week before heading off to
address an Indiana church group, argues that going to war or not going to
war shouldn't be a decision left only to preachers, professional agitators
and the relative few in any generation willing to take a controversial stand
or take to the streets. "I don't think it's the responsibility of peace
organizations to provide a conscience for people," he says. "It's a
responsibility that we all share in a democracy."
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