Not Your Parents' Protesters in Iraq Fight
Published on Saturday, February 15, 2003 by the Los Angeles Times
Not Your Parents' Protesters in Iraq Fight
by Rone Tempest
 

Flanked by her husband and her daughters, ages 4 and 5, Jenna Latt joined the peace movement late last year, first attending a candlelight vigil in Hollywood and then walking in an antiwar march in Los Angeles in January.

Latt is typical of the country's new brand of antiwar activists who have no prior connection to such movements and almost no previous political experience. These neophyte protesters have been turning out by the tens of thousands on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War.

The new movement is a broad amalgam of religious groups, labor and environmental organizations, nonprofit groups and anti-globalization campaigns knit together by the Internet. Many of the participants differ in their politics, but so far they have been able to subordinate clashing ideologies and agendas to a common purpose.

Latt, an environmental engineer from South Pasadena, decided to demonstrate against the war in October when Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to attack Iraq, a move she says she found alarming.

"We're not going to be the silent majority any longer," she recalled thinking.

The Latts plan to march again today, this time with Jenna's mother in tow. "She's real angry," Latt said of her mother.

"The main characteristic of these marches is the huge number of first-timers," said Ted Lewis, 44, a lifelong pacifist who works for the San Francisco human rights organization Global Exchange. "I'm one of those people who used to think that 400 to 500 people was a really big demo."

A Jan. 18 antiwar demonstration in San Francisco drew 55,000, according to police estimates. The same day, more than 200,000 demonstrators assembled in Washington, D.C. Organizers hope for similar turnouts this weekend in demonstrations scheduled for Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York and dozens of smaller American cities.

Los Angeles kicks off its march and demonstration at 1 p.m. today at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, concluding with a rally in front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Center at Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. In Santa Monica a "Peace at the Beach" walk and rally are set to begin at 10 a.m.

So far, the turnouts have come despite the anxiety of some participants over the presence of leftist groups that have played important roles in organizing early demonstrations.

Some Alienated

Some demonstrators, particularly Jewish dissenters who oppose the war but support Israel, have been alienated by the virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli rhetoric of groups such as the radical Workers World Party, a key member of the International A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition that organized the big Oct. 26 and Jan. 18 demonstrations. Workers World, which follows a Stalinist political line, supports Saddam Hussein and calls for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.

Signs of this friction were evident this week when a Bay Area rabbi and magazine editor, Michael Lerner, complained that anti-Israeli factions in the movement had blocked him from speaking at the San Francisco rally Sunday.

But since the October and January demonstrations, mainstream religious, labor and environmental organizations also have joined the movement, forming new coalitions that have already diluted leftist influences. More than 80 cities and counties, along with state legislative bodies in Maine and Hawaii, have passed resolutions urging President Bush not to rush to war. Campaigns are underway in more than 90 other cities.

Cities that have passed resolutions range from such bulwarks of liberalism as Santa Cruz and Santa Monica to Des Moines, Tucson, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Typical of the campaign, started by the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank in Washington, is the resolution passed Jan. 16 by the Chicago City Council on a 46-1 vote.

"The Bush administration has failed to articulate a clear strategic objective or outcome of a military attack against Iraq, and such an attack fails to enjoy the support of many of our allies," the resolution states. "Now, therefore be it resolved that we, the members of the City Council of the city of Chicago, oppose a preemptive U.S. military attack on Iraq unless it is demonstrated that Iraq poses a real and imminent threat to the security and safety of the United States."

In an attempt to create what organizers describe as a "big tent" that would be welcoming to more Americans, particularly first-time demonstrators, some of the more moderate organizing groups have tried to distance themselves from hard-line factions such as A.N.S.W.E.R.

Anticipating the internal debate that has historically characterized the early stages of anti-war and civil rights movements, the San Francisco nonprofit Global Exchange, which is mainly known for its work on international trade issues, helped create an alternative coalition: United for Peace & Justice.

The coalition, which includes Rabbi Lerner's Tikkun organization as a member, maintains one of the movement's most active Web sites at www.unitedfor peace.org, which has a state-by-state list of local vigils and demonstrations.

'The Biggest Tent'

Our decision was to create the biggest tent possible. We did not feel that A.N.S.W.E.R. could do this," said Global Exchange spokesman Jason Mark, interviewed in his San Francisco Mission District office as dozens of volunteers manned phone banks and sent e-mails urging participation in the weekend demonstration.

When internal divisions surface, as they did in the Lerner episode, United for Peace has acted quickly to defuse them.

In a news release issued Thursday, United for Peace and Justice announced that two other rabbis, David Cooper and Pam Frydman-Baugh, "both of whom hold views regarding Israel similar to those of Michael Lerner, will be speakers."

"Within the antiwar movement, there is a wide spectrum of diverse and opposing views regarding Israel and Palestine," the release acknowledged, "and those views will be heard. We strongly abhor all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism."

In a distinct departure from Vietnam-era protests, students so far have played only a secondary role.

"There hasn't been a mass outcry," said Priscilla Ocen, 23, president of student government at San Diego State. "I think students are in a much different place than they were 30 years ago. I know from talking to protesters who were in school in the 1960s or '70s, they didn't have to work as much and school fees were much lower. They didn't have as many commitments, so they could go to a protest. It's more difficult now for a student who has to decide whether to go to work or go to a protest."

Ocen plans to join a protest this morning at the downtown federal building in San Diego.

Late last month, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor unanimously passed a resolution saying the federation and the local AFL-CIO "stand firmly against the Bush administration's drive to war." During the Vietnam War, the AFL-CIO and Teamsters unions were strong supporters of the war, which they thought stimulated the economy. Student demonstrators were sometimes attacked in the streets by labor toughs.

Marches, demonstrations and vigils are also scheduled today in San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno, Orange, San Jose, St. Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Vallejo, Nevada City, Tehachapi, Palm Desert and tiny Sonora, which plans a peace rally in its County Courthouse Park.

San Francisco, which has the state's most active peace movement, will hold its demonstration Sunday to avoid conflicting with Chinese New Year's festivities.

In Mount Shasta, a town of 3,000 at the base of the volcanic peak in far Northern California, about 400 people are expected to march through the streets for an hour today. The rally came about when a group of protesters who last rallied against the Iran-Contra scandal and other American policies in Central America decided in December to reconvene.

"This is a very, very conservative county [Siskiyou], maybe the most conservative in the state," said Joanne Steele, 55, a self-employed marketing and tourism consultant. "But we're finding the peace initiative is appealing to a broad spectrum of residents in the county who are saying America shouldn't act this way and doesn't strike countries preemptively."

Churches Jump In

Religious organizations, ranging from the influential National Council of Churches to the UCLA Buddha Essence Temple, have joined the antiwar movement en masse, and much earlier in the antiwar effort than during the Vietnam era.

"During Vietnam, it took organized religion 12 years to show up," Council of Churches General Secretary Rev. Robert Edgar told a recent gathering at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena. This time, he said, religion is speaking out before the first shot has been fired.

He noted that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement opposing the war last September. Edgar himself has traveled to Iraq with a delegation of religious leaders in the cause of peace.

"You haven't lived until you have heard 'We Shall Overcome' sung in Arabic," Edgar told the Pasadena church.

At All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, 2,100 parishioners sent packets of uncooked rice to the White House, stuffed in envelopes bearing $1.06 in postage.

The idea originated with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center in Boulder, Colo., and is based on a scriptural passage (Romans 12:20) which says, "If your enemies are hungry, feed them."

In a statement issued Friday, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, urged the United States and other members of the United Nations to "increase their resolve to bring about Iraqi compliance with United Nations resolutions short of war."

Mahony has joined with other bishops in declaring that war against Iraq is not justified "based on the facts that are known to us."

He asked all parishes to include prayers for peace in their weekend liturgies.

Times staff writers Martha Groves, Daniel Hernandez, Steve Hymon, George Ramos, Larry Stammer and Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report from Los Angeles, and Emily Gurnon from Arcata.

Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times

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