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'Peace is Patriotic': Activist Organizes Marches to Encourage Public Opinion
Published on Monday, January 13, 2003 by the Ventura County Star (California)
'Peace is Patriotic'
Activist Organizes Marches to Encourage Public Opinion
by Tom Kisken
 

Maybe Robert Dodge shouldn't be marching on Ventura's Main Street with his peace emblem T-shirt and a sign that shouts "Support the U.N." in scrawled Magic Marker.

It's not like the 50-year-old Venturan has time. He's a family practice doctor who considers 60-hour weeks short. Today, on his "day off," he just finished checking on a man with pneumonia and a woman recovering from back surgery.

Dodge has things other than the possibility of war in Iraq to consume him. His son David has been diagnosed with leukemia twice and has spent almost a third of his 20 years on chemotherapy, with the current course scheduled to end in May.

And yet Dr. Peace, as a friend calls him, has thrown himself into the emerging anti-war movement as if attacks against Iraq were coming tomorrow. His Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions group started some 10 months ago with a half-dozen people in a neighbor's home. Now, it has an e-mail list of about 400.

Dodge drives to rallies and marches in his Volkswagen Passat with the "Peace is Patriotic" bumper sticker. He's also Ventura County president of the anti-nuke mainstay, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"If he's not doing the doctor thing, he's doing the peace thing," said Steven Dodge, who is 15 and the youngest of three sons.

"Sometimes it's like, 'Relax a little bit,'" said David Dodge, who is in remission and is a global studies major at UC Santa Barbara. "He's a workaholic."

His fix on this day involves walking up and down Main Street with Steven, David and about 70 other people. They chant oft-used slogans like "This is what democracy is all about."

One marcher carries a sign that reads "Honk for Peace." A chorus of passers-by blare their answer while a few drivers send a different message. They stare straight ahead and grip their steering wheels.

Dodge is an optimist who pays less attention to the silent scowls than to the honked horns and polls contending a majority of Americans believe war with Iraq has not been justified.

He says repeatedly his goal in organizing marches and monthly forums is to enable people to express opinions -- be it support, uncertainty or opposition. However, his actions and rhetoric seem to be aimed at another target, at imprinting what he believes is the majority opinion on the White House.

"If we don't go to war, it's because there's a groundswell of protest in this country and around the world," Dodge said. "I believe the war in Iraq is wrong, and I'll do whatever I can to not make it happen."

Remembering Vietnam

The rallies and vigils organized by people like Dodge in Ventura, Ojai and Thousand Oaks seem more cerebral than emotional, although the intensity of the Southern California anti-war movement may be growing. Thousands of demonstrators marched Saturday in Los Angeles.

Many of the people carrying signs into Ventura's Plaza Park for a peace march are 40 and older. Some have little if any experience protesting. Others are longtime activists who circulate petitions supporting the living wage movement and distribute Green Party bumper stickers.

"I'm out here because I remember the Vietnam War," said Dennis Daneau, trying to explain the abundance of gray. "We have memories. Young people are not clear about war. What they've seen is Grenada. What they've seen is Desert Storm. ...They don't understand body bags."

Daneau is an Ojai special education teacher who doubts the peace movement has the size or intensity to stop a war. He marches all the same.

"I think George Bush is hellbent on leather to start this war," he said. "I want the American people to understand in the long run how the military-industrial system encourages and leads us to war. ... Our weapons industry likes this war. There are a few people who make a helluva lot of money when we go to war."

The rally seems simultaneously removed and attached to the movement that covered the country like a tie-dyed quilt during the Vietnam War. Except for the occasional chanting and honking on Main Street, the procession is low-key. Some marchers are so respectful of law and order, they won't jaywalk.

Yet the kaleidoscopic tint of the 1960s is apparent -- in the dashiki worn by one protester, picket sign slogans like "Give Peace A Chance" and the words of people born a decade after Vietnam.

The protests stopped the war back then. They can do the same now, said Jessica Beckerman, an 18-year-old college student filming a documentary on peace rallies.

"The government doesn't want to do things that make everyone angry," said Beckerman, a Venturan who is now at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

She said the Saturday marches on Main Street have a different feel than at campus where the rallies are vibrant and activists hand students cell phones, asking them to make protest calls directly to the White House.

"People here seem as informed but not outwardly passionate and angry," she said.

Fighting by proxy

Dodge was a pre-med student with a billowing red afro during the latter years of Vietnam. He wasn't a protest leader but went to rallies, gathering with other students at the University of Colorado in Boulder and marching to a nearby freeway.

He worries sometimes about the quiet nature of the current peace movement and tries to arrange for guitar-playing activists to be at rallies who can spur protesters into singing "Give Peace A Chance."

The regular crowd at the peace marches includes a trio of kids from Ventura High School and a few others younger than 25, but Dodge acknowledges the movement in Ventura County seems to be driven by people of his generation.

Young adults don't feel as threatened as they did 35 years ago, partly because the draft is gone.

"War is sort of fought by proxy," he said. "It's the poor people, the people who sort of haven't been franchised by society. Those of us in certain socioeconomic groups are able to sit back as wars are fought on our behalf."

Dodge wasn't drafted because he was in college. After the war, he focused on medical school and not activism. His social conscience spurred him during the Cold War when he got involved with the anti-nuclear movement through groups like Beyond War and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

He is a bicyclist, tennis player and surfer. For 21 years, Dodge delivered babies as part of his family practice. He made the decision to give up that part of his practice shortly before David was diagnosed with a relapse of leukemia.

"It was awful. It's all awful," he said of the disease. "When you're a physician, you know too much. You have this young man who is aware of the world and his main thing is 'Am I going to die?'"

Dodge doesn't avoid any questions, rather pours forth answers as if he has been chain-drinking espresso. Friends talk about his willingness to listen and his compassion.

"He's the most unradical person in the world," said his neighbor Ron Hertz. "He's totally rational, logical, knowledgeable and balanced."

Nuclear anxiety

It was about a year ago that Hertz and Dodge converged at the front of their driveways and commiserated over a Pentagon report calling for new nuclear research. They decided to start polling friends to gauge interest in organizing a peace group that evolved into Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.

Founded out of nuclear anxiety, the group is now targeted on war, and it does take every spare minute Dodge has.

"I'm sort of doing this instead of sleeping at night," he said, referring to his late-night habit of writing letters to the editor.

He hopes the peace movement changes the world but concedes it may not. Either way, he feels compelled to speak out.

"If I look back and nothing has changed, at least I can rest with the fact that I've done everything I could," he said.

2003 © The E.W. Scripps Co.

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