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Bay Area Protests War
Published on Monday, January 13, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Bay Area Protests War
by Ruth Rosen
 

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the common sense of the American people. According to recent polls, early support for an invasion of Iraq is slipping. Most Americans agree Saddam Hussein is a monstrous dictator. But with each passing month, more people recognize that he is not linked to al Qaeda terrorists. The real nuclear threat posed by North Korea has also made some people wonder -- in the absence of new evidence -- whether it is Iraq that threatens our national security. Finally, some people may realize that it is control over Iraq's oil fields that our national leaders covet, not the prospect of installing democracy in Iraq.

Never before in human history has an anti-war movement grown so fast and spread so quickly. It is even more remarkable because the war has yet to begin.

Publicized throughout cyberspace, the anti-war movement has left behind its sectarian roots and entered mainstream culture. To give just a few examples, the National Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women, Win Without War (Hollywood celebrities), the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, and the Sierra Club have all voiced their opposition to an invasion of Iraq.

As in the 1960s, Northern California is a pivotal center of the nation's anti-war activity. By launching "United For Peace," an ecumenical network of coalitions, the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange helped broaden the appeal of the movement. Medea Benjamin, its spirited director, also kicked off a national Women's Peace Vigil and rolling fast in Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House. Dubbed "Code Pink"(an alternative to the government's code orange or red alerts), the peaceful protest has already inspired similar vigils and fasts across the country.

As you'd expect, Bay Area students are key players in the movement. On Jan. 17, as college students gather on the East Coast, San Francisco State University will host a "Youth Anti-War Conference" to coordinate college anti- war activism on the West Coast.

Unlike the Vietnam era, this new movement has also attracted immigrants and minorities, some of whose activities are regularly publicized in San Francisco's "War Times," a bilingual publication circulated nationwide.

On any given day, you can find ordinary people -- from San Jose to Petaluma -- staging weekly vigils at federal buildings, BART stations and public spaces.

Every Sunday, for example, the Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace walk around the lake.

Right now, most Bay Area peace groups are busy preparing for the National Marches on Washington and San Francisco that will take place on Jan. 18. The marches are expected to draw thousands of people to the nation's capital and to our fair city. (More about the national anti-war protests on Thursday.)

Some people, of course, don't wait for marches and, in the inimitable tradition of the Bay Area's activism, find their own distinctive way to protest the war. In West Marin, for example, 50 women recently disrobed and spelled out the word peace with their naked bodies on Love Field in Point Reyes. "Beautiful and brave to lay naked in the rain for a just message," commented one passer-by.

So far, Bay Area activists have embraced the long and honorable American tradition of using peaceful protest and nonviolent civil disobedience to express dissent. Nothing could be more important because nothing is less persuasive than using violence to protest war.

For more information, visit www.unitedforpeace.org; www.codepink4peace.org; www.CaliforniaPeaceAction.org

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

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