[sixties-l] Operation: Peace (fwd)

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Date: Tue Oct 08 2002 - 15:02:50 EDT

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    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Sun, 06 Oct 2002 21:54:09 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Operation: Peace

    Operation: Peace


    Antiwar movement reflects a different America than in past eras, but diverse
    allies keep the spirit alive.

    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
    Chairman Mao.

    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."

    Young Recruits

    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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