Published on Wednesday, December 11, 2002 by the Houston Chronicle
U.S. Anti-War Protests Spread
Marchers hit streets of Houston, other cities; over 140 arrested
by Cynthia Lee
WASHINGTON -- Anti-war protesters in Houston and dozens of U.S. cities took to the streets Tuesday in full-throated, drum-banging opposition to the Bush administration's threat of hostilities with Iraq.
In Hollywood, meanwhile, more than 100 celebrities issued an open letter to President Bush critical of his push for a confrontation with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, calling the president's posturing "alarming and unnecessary."
The protests -- organized by fax and the Internet to coincide with International Human Rights Day -- were among the most widespread demonstrations against military buildup around Iraq.
"We are bridging a lot of other divides that we might have on other issues because we all agree that a pre-emptive attack on Iraq is wrong," said Andrea Buffa, co-chair of the United for Peace coalition of more than 70 organizations including religious, social justice, environmental, women's and student groups.
The coalition itself is an example of the momentum the movement has gained. United for Peace began as a Web site started by human rights group Global Exchange to list events commemorating the Sept. 11 anniversary. It made its transformation on Oct. 25 -- a day before 100,000 marched in anti-war demonstrations in Washington and 80,000 marched in San Francisco.
Academics and activists say this round of the peace movement is unique because of its attempts to prevent a war rather than reacting to one that's already begun.
Michael Nagler, a University of California at Berkeley professor, said peace activism today has progressed beyond protests of the Vietnam War era when the public response swelled only after Americans were killed and the war was dragging on.
Others say many groups were already in a good position to deal with the new threat of military action because they have continued to oppose economic sanctions against Iraq and enforcement of no-fly zones in place since the Persian Gulf War.
In Houston, protesters braved cold temperatures Tuesday night and peacefully demonstrated across the street from the Galleria, holding signs and chanting against war with Iraq. They said U.S. shoppers shouldn't consider this a usual Christmas.
"We want to point out the obvious contradiction between celebrating peace at Christmastime while our country is preparing for war with Iraq," said Ken Freeland, of the Houston Coalition for Justice Not War, which sponsored the demonstration.
Coalition members performed a skit in which Uncle Sam prevented Santa Claus from entering a no-fly zone over Iraq. Santa said he had toys to deliver to Iraqi children, but Uncle Sam said he had missiles and bombs for them instead.
"We hope to heighten awareness that this is an immoral war if it goes forward," said Dave Atwood, who portrayed Uncle Sam.
Some passers-by said the protest taught them something about the possible war.
"It's another side that we haven't been exposed to in a way," said Celeste Anderson, 24. "Now, I feel bad."
"Things have to be done over there," said Jennifer Hunter, 25. "I wish people didn't have to be killed."
Austin was host to two protests, including one where seven anti-war demonstrators were arrested.
More than 150 demonstrators gathered around 11 a.m. at the University of Texas and marched to a nearby Army recruiting office inside Dobie Mall, where they set up an information table. The recruiting office was closed at the time.
A mall official asked the demonstrators to leave and police stepped in when they refused, said Austin Police Department spokeswoman Laura Albrecht. Protesters staged another demonstration during rush hour on the Congress Avenue bridge in downtown Austin, where more than 200 people gathered for more than 1 1/2 hours.
Demonstrators waved signs and chanted anti-war slogans, but no arrests were reported.
And in Washington, hundreds of protesters turned out for a midday rally and march near the White House.
"Unfortunately, the man down the street in the White House has chosen not to seek peace in his heart," Gordon Clark, an event organizer, shouted to a crowd of several hundred people carrying signs and banners. "And that's why we're here today to speak for peace."
Compared with demonstrations abroad, protests in the United States have been relatively minor. Hundreds of thousands of anti-Iraq war demonstrators have marched in Berlin, London, Paris and Rome.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer welcomed Tuesday's protests as long as they were peaceful, calling demonstrations against war "one of America's time-honored traditions."
Chronicle reporters Dale Lezon and Armando Villafranca, and Chronicle wire services contributed to this story.
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau