For most people, Christmas is a time to unwrap presents and eat huge meals. For Steven Simon, it's a time to wear a Santa suit and go to the intersection of Blackstone and Shaw avenues to criticize U.S. foreign policy.
"I delivered some coal to the president on the way here," joked Simon, a student at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Simon and about 30 others joined up at the busy intersection Tuesday afternoon for what has become a holiday tradition -- an annual Christmas war protest held by the advocacy group Peace Fresno.
It might strike some as an unusual way to spend the holiday, but organizers say the goal -- peace -- is what the season is all about.
Participants held signs with anti-war slogans. They also incorporated some holiday fun. Some sang revamped versions of holiday songs, even if some of the lyrics didn't exactly fit the melody.
"We don't want toys of war, underneath the tree," went one refrain in a new version of "Jingle Bells."
"Let's forget the shopping spree, let's give the gift of love," they sang in another song, a take on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Some drivers passing the protest honked their horns and flashed peace signs or gave a thumbs up. The group has received a more negative response in the past, members say.
Valley residents have become more receptive of Peace Fresno as they've become less supportive of the Iraq war, said Scott Key, Peace Fresno's president.
"This is an illegal and immoral war," said Key, sporting a Santa cap.
President Bush lied about key points used as justification for the war, Key said, such as Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorists involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Peace Fresno has faced strident opposition, and even suspicion. Peace Fresno received national attention when Michael Moore included the group in his documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11." The reason: Then-Sheriff Richard Pierce reportedly had an undercover agent infiltrate the group.
The office of then-California Attorney General Bill Lockyer investigated, and Lockyer said the Sheriff's Department's actions may have violated group members' civil rights. Pierce disagreed with Lockyer's opinion, although he didn't deny the infiltration.
Since then, Peace Fresno has continued to grow, with about 300 dues-paying members and 900 "friends" on the group's mailing lists, said Key, an education professor at Fresno Pacific University.
That doesn't mean unified support for the Christmas protest. Count Key's two children as opponents.
Rachel, 11, and Joshua, 9, would have preferred to stay at home, playing with presents they had opened earlier.
Instead, Joshua was holding a sign with a drawing of cross hairs over a school, to indicate military recruiters who target students.
"This is boring," Joshua said. "It's Christmas."
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© 2007 The Fresno Bee