Each calls herself an ordinary person. A pregnant mother with two
small children in Albany. A waitress in San Rafael. A Lafayette book club
Yet in the past few weeks, these people who have lives and kids and aren't
prone to protesting every injustice they see on a tacked-up flyer have left
their comfortable homes to protest the possibility of war with Iraq. Their
common motivation: They feel that Washington isn't listening.
An anti-war rally at the Oakland Federal Building Dec. 10 drew new protesters, such as Frances Durhan of Oakland (in wheelchair). Chronicle photo by Brant Ward
Some point to these living-room revolutionaries, as well as to Internet
petition campaigns, "Peace Is Patriotic" billboards in the Bay Area and an
uptick in bumper sticker sales, as the tip of an iceberg of anti-war protest
floating toward the country's midsection.
But aside from demonstrations in October that drew tens of thousands in San
Francisco and Washington, D.C., others dismiss such uprisings as more ice
cubes than icebergs of activism -- and hardly unexpected in the Bay Area,
given its left-of-the-dial leanings.
If a movement is growing, these critics say, then why didn't Congress heed
it instead of supporting a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force
in Iraq? Among those who backed it were Democratic Reps. Ellen Tauscher of
Walnut Creek, Tom Lantos of San Mateo and every congressional Democrat with
"Everybody likes to say that they represent millions, but they usually only
represent themselves," said Mo Fiorina, a senior fellow at the Hoover
Institution and political science professor at Stanford University. "Until you
see Republicans in Congress deserting the president the way that Democrats
deserted (President Lyndon) Johnson during Vietnam, then this doesn't amount
A noontime rally in Oakland last week drew 150 mostly veteran demonstrators
-- hardly evidence that the revolution had spread to Atherton.
"When someone told me the other day that so-and-so sold 1,000 bumper
stickers," Fiorina said, "I responded, 'That's nice, but 100 million people
voted in the last presidential election.' "
Activists say it's impossible to measure the movement at this stage. But
what gives them hope is that pockets of activism are showing up in unlikely
places -- and without a draft dipping into the middle class, which is what
awakened suburban protest during the Vietnam War.
From study circles of high-tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to
Thursday's first meeting of a coalition in Walnut Creek, anti-war protest is
smelling more like mall-bought Givenchy than Telegraph Avenue-purchased
"People are desperately craving community to talk about this, to express
themselves," said Michael Nagler, emeritus professor of classics and
literature at UC Berkeley and founder of the school's Peace and Conflict
JUGGLING PROTESTS, NAP TIME
In the Bay Area, that craving is personified by Julie Tovar, the pregnant
Albany mom who organized a 200-person march in her neighborhood Nov. 3. By
Amelia Fay-Berquist, the waitress who got arrested at her first demonstration.
And by Janet Thomas, the book clubber who stood on a main drag in Lafayette
and waved a sign -- and to her surprise was joined by 100 of her neighbors.
Julian Frederick of Alameda says flag-waving isn't just for conservatives. It stands for protest, too. Chronicle photo by Brant Ward
"I just couldn't sleep at night," said Tovar, 35, the mother of a 2- and a
4-year-old. Aside from a demonstration while a UC Berkeley student a decade
ago, Tovar hasn't protested since her parents took her on a Cesar Chavez-led
march in the 1970s, when she was as old as her youngest child. These days,
she's a full-time mom.
But the Bush administration's actions in the Middle East were upsetting her,
she said, and "I knew in my heart that others felt the same way."
So during the wee hours one night this fall -- "I think it was my hormones,
" Tovar said -- she posted an item on an Internet forum popular with parents.
Amid postings selling Graco strollers and soliciting for nannies, Tovar
asked "if many other parents are feeling like I am: pretty voiceless regarding
the current (relentless) move toward war on Iraq."
Plenty did. Yet many told Tovar that if they did something publicly, they
didn't want it to be "real Berkeley." Translation: Easy on the rhetoric and
ask the speakers to confine their comments to a single issue.
Oh, and several asked that the event not be scheduled from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. -- that's nap time for the kiddies.
So she tailored an event for her middle-class neighborhood. There were only
two speakers and both addressed only anti-war sentiment, not the grievances of
the Palestinians or Israelis.
The 200 participants walked down Solano Avenue, Albany's main street, and
gathered in Albany Memorial Park for a balloon-festooned gathering that more
resembled an overgrown birthday party than an anti-war rally.
Robert E. Miller brought his anti-war Santa Claus to the Oakland Federal Building Tuesday. Chronicle photo by Brant Ward
Which was the point, Tovar said. "People have this image of families, that
we're only interested in gassing up our SUVs to take the kids to soccer
practice. People care. I can't tell you how many wrote and said, 'I don't have
the time to help, but I'll definitely be there.' "
A BOOK CLUB TRANSFORMED
Thomas, a 51-year-old Lafayette schoolteacher, was pleasantly surprised by
a similar reaction she found in her town, which isn't known as a hotbed of
"I know it's a stereotype, but we don't have a lot of time for socializing
with other adults," said Thomas, who has three children. "Most of that is done
around the soccer field -- and you don't talk about a lot of issues there. You
talk about your kids."
Yet shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, her book club was transformed by a
visit from former Orinda resident Ellen Schwartz. With the group overwhelmed
with anxiety after the attacks, members were rapt with Schwartz's book,
"Taking Back Our Lives in the Age of Corporate Dominance," which suggests many
little things people can do to change their neighborhoods.
A subgroup began concentrating on public service. Over the next several
months, these suburban parents invited sweatshop activists and refugee agency
leaders to speak to them, and passed the hat to help their causes.
When war rhetoric heated up this fall, the group felt compelled to do
something more dramatic. On the Monday before Congress voted on the war
resolution, Thomas and 20 friends stood near Mount Diablo Boulevard, the
town's main thoroughfare, greeting the rush-hour traffic. Within minutes, the
group swelled to 100.
"We were mutually frustrated by the way our culture was evolving," said
Thomas, who hadn't marched in a protest since 1970, when she was a Stanford
Only a few motorists heckled, and the jeers were as tame as the
neighborhood. Said one heckler, "I hear there's a sale on Birkenstocks at
FINDING TIME FOR ACTIVISM
Fay-Berquist, the 22-year-old San Rafael resident, also was moved to action
by the congressional vote.
James Burger, 4, of Albany waves a U.S. peace flag in front of brother Rafael, 2. Mom Julie Tovar organized an anti-war rally. Chronicle photo by Darryl Bush
She's too busy to be an activist, between getting up at 6 a.m. for her
waitress job, her studies at College of Marin and the salsa class she takes at
But the war resolution vote made the possibility of an "unnecessary war"
seem real. She learned of a protest at a federal office building in San
At 4 p.m. on Oct. 10, she was marching down Market Street. At midnight, she
was camped out overnight with people who had been total strangers just hours
before. At 7:30 a.m., she was arrested for blocking the entrance to the
building. She was released from jail later that afternoon. Civil disobedience
charges were dropped a month later.
Since then, Fay-Berquist has spent her Fridays volunteering her database-
crafting skills at Global Exchange, an anti-war coalition in San Francisco.
Her bigger challenge: to recruit friends and family to future protests.
"I'd love to have a friend walk with me, but there haven't been any takers,
" she said. "People think it's awesome what I'm doing, but it's just not for
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle