Published on Tuesday, December 10, 2002 by the Washington Post
The Peace Warriors
For Now, Anarchists, Socialists, Quakers, And More Are Marching to the Same Drum
by David Montgomery
The dogs of war are baying in their kennel, drooling for another romp in the desert, and the din has awakened . . . what -- the doves of peace?
If only it were that simple, the peace movement might have an easier time. Or is it movements? Anyway, many, many species flock, trot, march, slither for peace -- so unlike the single-minded hounds.
If you knew where to look around Washington this past week, you saw anarchists scouting Army recruiting offices for good places to get arrested, socialists sticking red flag pins on a map to mark where the masses are mobilizing, anti-corporate-globalization kids zipping themselves up in white vinyl body bags they bought online for $7.
But let's not define the movement only by its wild frontiers. Don't forget the suburban seniors fixing to march on the White House in spite of arthritis and titanium kneecaps, women wearing pink keeping vigil in the cold, Quakers in the basement debating slogans that are too long and nuanced to fit on a bumper sticker, mainline Protestant pooh-bahs buying newspaper ads, union bosses taking a gut check of the rank and file, professional peaceniks holding 50-person conference calls, drafting white papers, asking for money . . .
Today the whole menagerie will be buzzing, bleating, bellowing in the movement's latest efflorescence -- civil disobedience outside a recruitment office at 12th and F streets NW at 8 a.m., rally and march in Farragut Square at noon, protest an Iraqi "liberation" lobby on Pennsylvania Avenue NW at 4:30 p.m., plus more of the same across the country on this International Human Rights Day.
The peace movement also wants You. So you study it, but you have trouble figuring out where you should sign up, if you should sign up:
The Washington Peace Center, Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, the Washington Action Group, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, Left Turn, Not in Our Name, Pressure Point, Black Voices for Peace, Iraq Pledge of Resistance, the International Action Center, the Women's Peace Vigil.
To name a few.
Peace groups coagulate into peace networks: Recruiters for Peace and Justice Coalition, D.C. Anti-War Network, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), United for Peace, Win Without War, National Network to End the War Against Iraq.
Coming soon: networks of peace networks, coalitions of coalitions of coalitions.
It was almost this complicated during the Vietnam War, when the template of American peace protest was forged. What did the Yippies, the Weathermen, the Veterans for Peace in Vietnam have in common except one of their enemies, the war? The model was tinkered with only slightly in the anti-nuke, pro-Sandinista, anti-
apartheid days. Now everything is a little more so, with flattened hierarchies, fewer leaders, less charisma, more people empowered (women are no longer relegated to the outer ring of chairs at peace powwows while ego-tripping white men hold the floor for hour after free-associating hour).
The result is more moving parts, unharnessed energy, free radicals, and graybeard organizers who aimed their first monkey wrench at the war machine when LBJ was king -- now they're taking a fresh hit of zeal from baby activists who can't pronounce Hue and still think there's something new under the sun.
"They're all connected and that's the beauty of this anarchistic movement," says Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, United for Peace and the Women's Peace Vigil. "It's got lots of different people doing lots of different things."
Can lots of different people doing lots of different things stop the war? We'll find out.
There's Jane Meleney Coe, 64, Quaker, from Bethesda, wearing a sensible pink pullover and slacks as she tells a roomful of assorted Christians and grandparents how you have to make your opposition visible. What about a march downtown, with bongo drums and prayers?
"We went off and bombed an awful lot of Afghanistan and we haven't fulfilled our promise of nation-building there -- and now we're off to Iraq?" Coe says. "For me the failure to nurture peace between Palestine and Israel is where we really need to focus our energies."
There's Ray Valentine, 22, anarchist, from the District, dressed in black, who rides his bike from Columbia Heights to coffee-shop meetings with comrades to plan a surprise for downtown military recruiters. He doesn't have a regular job but spends most of his time working with one anarchist collective that feeds the homeless on weekends and another that's starting a radical bookstore to be run with no profit, no bosses, everybody chipping in -- a micro model for a better world that, by the way, would no longer need war.
"The U.S. is doing this to maintain economic control, this iron fist over the world," Valentine says.
And there's Jack Condon, 69, a Democrat who sometimes votes Green, an ex-Marine and physics teacher, dressed in lumpy layers against the cold as he prepares to go out wheat-pasting fluorescent orange and purple antiwar posters to light poles on Capitol Hill. Being from Arlington, he gets horribly lost.
He's worried that the consequences of invading Iraq will be endless Middle East war, more terrorism, and guess who will suffer most? "The Bushes go back to their ranch. Saddam Hussein goes back in his hole. They'll be safe. We're going to pay the price, just like the Iraqi people are going to pay the price."
Organizing an ANSWER
Anarchists, Quakers, Democrats, oh my! Surprise, they're saying a lot of the same things. Maybe it's because this is an easy war to be against. Saddam hasn't even done the war dogs the favor of invading another country first. He's just a plain dangerous threat, says President Bush.
A threat? scoff the peace tribes in their coffee shacks, churches and phone bank boiler rooms. The first Gulf War wasn't a close contest, and now after 10 years of ruinous sanctions and the postwar destruction of tons of chemical weapons by United Nations inspectors, Iraq is supposed to be a threat?
The rising chorus in unison doesn't mean all pieces of the peace movement are the same. To understand them better, watch what they do, not what they say.
Socialists are the best organizers. It has ever been so, at least since the heady days of progressive mobilizations in the early part of the 20th century.
The reason the antiwar movement has received attention and momentum before the war has even begun -- surely this is some sort of record -- can be largely credited to the work of International ANSWER. On Oct. 26 that coalition turned out about 100,000 protesters in Washington and tens of thousands more in San Francisco.
ANSWER is not a socialist organization, but key members of its brain trust happen to be active in the Workers World Party. Their party politics are irrelevant to the vast majority of people, like Democrat Condon, for example, who are attracted to a seasoned outfit that's good at what it does.
The ANSWER coalition includes groups like the International Action Center, a New York-based band of serial organizers who have demonstrated against the death penalty, welfare reform, U.S. "imperialism," corporate globalization, and the inauguration of George W. Bush.
The secret of how ANSWER organizes is mundane: systematic hard work, not so common in radical circles. Sarah Sloan, a local ANSWER activist, explains it sitting in the cramped white brick D.C. chapter headquarters, on the outskirts of Capitol Hill. Sloan is 22, serious, with cropped hair and wire-rim glasses, fond of beginning sentences with the phrase "Our perspective is . . . ." She dropped out of college at 17 to join the movement after traveling to Iraq with activists to witness the devastation of the sanctions. She's unpaid, like everyone else organizing full time with ANSWER. She pays the rent by transcribing interviews for writers late at night. She's a Workers World Party member, unlike most of the D.C. volunteers.
Speaking for ANSWER, she says, "Our perspective is that massive attacks and intervention could lead to . . . a rebirth of a massive progressive people's movement."
Next to Sloan is the U.S. map with the red flag pins. Each pin marks a city from which buses of 49 passengers apiece are already scheduled to come to Washington for the next big demo on Jan. 18. Dozens and dozens of cities are flagged: Iowa City; Shepherdstown, W.Va.; Geneva, N.Y.; Charleston, S.C.; Nashville . . .
In many of the cities, the people chartering the buses are working on their first demo. They heard of ANSWER the way Condon did, by picking up a flier, then learned the calculus of movement-building: Fliers are handed out at Metro stations at the rate of 500 an hour. Photocopied poster art is enlarged 130 percent or 200 percent, depending on the size of the surface to which it will be wheat-pasted. Poster teams go out once a week and blanket city and suburbs.
"Our perspective is people have to hear about something more than once to make them feel it's a big thing," Sloan says. "We spend the bulk of our time reaching out to people who aren't involved and don't yet know about the movement against the war."
To an extent unknown outside the boardrooms of the most well-heeled charities, ANSWER understands the care and feeding of its public. Call an ANSWER office, and you'll reach a live person, or you'll soon get a call back. Students and retirees staff the phones in shifts. A local office like the one in the District might have a volunteer "hot list" of 80 people, which organizers frequently update with only the most active supporters.
By not ignoring neighborhoods like Anacostia and Capitol Heights, ANSWER attracts more people of color than other peace groups, with the exception of Black Voices for Peace, formed in Washington precisely because of the unbearable whiteness of the peace movement.
ANSWER's disciplined passion is hard to beat. And yet there are critics. Go to an ANSWER rally billed as "antiwar," and besides the peace talk you're likely to hear speaker after speaker going on about Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Palestine, Cuba, Korea, Vieques -- with the U.S. government always cast as the villain.
This is why more mainstream peace groups are a little squeamish about ANSWER.
"Kudos to them for having the foresight and guts to go out there and call the demo," says Scott Lynch of Peace Action, a national grass roots group with about 85,000 members. "The problem is, if the movement continues to be led by them, it won't go any farther."
ANSWER's answer to that is: If the mainstream peace movement has such mass appeal, how come its recent demonstrations have been so puny?
All in good time, says Lynch. Slower off the mark than ANSWER, many mainstream elements of the movement plan to support ANSWER's Jan. 18 blowout -- but they also are eyeing the weekend of Feb. 16 in New York for their own huge demonstration.
Internal tension was encoded in the peace movement's DNA during the genesis moment in the early 1960s. Remember when there was a huge fight over whether the protest signs should demand U.S. troops out now, or negotiate now? Remember when doctrinaire pacifists had hissy fits at peace workers who reached out to GIs? Remember when good liberal burghers wished the scruffy Left would just butt out -- or at least stop saying nice things about Ho Chi Minh?
More recently, remember when two national coalitions arose to protest the Persian Gulf War, with one accusing the other of being soft on Saddam?
There is always a "good" peace movement and a "bad" peace movement, depending on your point of view, but they need each other, as much as they need the threat of war.
Peace Is Their Business
One afternoon last week 27 protesters zipped themselves up in white vinyl body bags on the sidewalk outside what they said was the lobbying office for ExxonMobil on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. They looked like abandoned luggage. Someone dressed as the Grim Reaper walked among the prone shapes, cackling and holding a gasoline nozzle instead of a scythe.
Then the protesters popped out of their bags, chanted "No blood for oil" and marched to a nearby gas station, where they posed for pictures next to the pumps.
Ah, the anti-corporate-globalization raiders, with their theater and whimsy.
But what do they have to do with the peace movement?
They are nothing if not opportunistic. But they also are adding a planetary perspective that seems new. You didn't hear this stuff so much in 1965.
"Some of the opposition to the war now comes from a clearer vision of what's happening in the international world than we had when we started trying to figure out where Vietnam was," says John Judge, 55, a coordinator of the Washington Peace Center. He was a college student in 1965 who flunked the physical for the draft and counseled students and GIs on their options, and he's been doing peace work ever since.
At the gas station, the Grim Reaper, who was labeled "ExxonMobil," exulted for the television cameras: "We're looking forward to the war. The price of oil is going to go up and we're going to make billions of dollars!"
The alleged war-oil connection is not new, but this species of dove is opposing the war more broadly as an instrument of global capitalism, not just oil companies. The demonstrators say this war is best understood simply as a scheme to make another patch of the world safe for Western investors.
Several miles north in bourgeois Bethesda, a different analysis is spreading softly in the night.
Jane Meleney Coe, the Quaker, has about 40 senior citizens from various Protestant denominations arranged in a circle in the basement music room of a private school while she writes their ideas with a squeaky marker pen on a large pad.
They are trying to come up with slogans. They chuckle at "Drop Bush Not Bombs" but decide it's not nice.
They admire "There Is That Which Is of God in Every Person," the old Quaker precept.
But is it too much for a sign?
This is new territory. Will Metro allow them to board trains with wooden sticks for signs?
"I can use it as a cane with my new knee," says Lee Warren Shipman, 78, an architectural planner. Later she says: "I just don't believe in war. I think al Qaeda is more of a threat than Iraq."
Odom Fanning, 82, a World War II Marine vet and retired writer, says, "I can see hundreds of thousands of our troops and allied troops being involved in a bloody and almost never-ending conflict, and I don't think history will look kindly on the United States for starting that kind of war."
It was Coe who thought the sight of 65- and 75-year-olds marching downtown would be powerful. Now it's mushroomed into the centerpiece of today's activities, the rally at Farragut Square.
The other peace tribes promise to fall in behind the church ladies, all for one, one for all.
The Battles to Come
Later will come the schisms, betrayals and burnouts.
Are sanctions effective? Is the United Nations a puppet of the U.S. government? Is capitalism a problem? Is war sometimes the answer? How much is Israel to blame for Middle East strife? How much is the U.S. to blame? What would Jesus do?
The doves disagree among themselves on all of these questions. The doves are eternally cursed to disagree, sooner or later. Oh, to be born a simple hound.
They know this. And yet they keep organizing, marching, chanting, singing, praying, drumming, going to jail, zipping into body bags -- so that one day they might get it together, and the dogs will be forever leashed.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company