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the Fresno Bee (Calif.)

Activists Emphasize Need to Keep Pushing for Peace

Hundreds of anti-war activists turn out for Rally in the Valley

Chris Collins

The clouds break up Sunday over Eaton Plaza where rally organizers put up a banner with crosses representing U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq War. Peace Fresno organized the annual anti-war event. (Craig Kohlruss/The Fresno Bee)

With reduced violence in Iraq and a new president at the helm, the U.S. anti-war movement isn't as fervent as it was two or three years ago.

But that didn't stop about 300 people from gathering in downtown Fresno for the eighth annual Rally in the Valley for Peace and Justice on Sunday, just three days after the six-year anniversary of the Iraq war.

In previous years, up to 1,000 people showed up at the rallies in Eaton Plaza, said Ken Hudson, who is on the board of Peace Fresno, which organized the rally. But now there is a sentiment that "the situation is not as dire," he said.

Soggy weather Sunday afternoon also kept some people away, he added.

Hudson and other activists said that opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can't afford to sit back silently.

"There's a little bit of a feeling in the country that we should let [President Barack] Obama handle it," said Camille Russell, a Peace Fresno activist. "But he's never going to be able to make it without us pushing him."

Marie Dibenedetto, who is from Allensville, Pa., and is studying organic farming in North Fork, said the rally was well-attended compared to some anti-war rallies she had been to on the East Coast.

Dibenedetto believes Obama will pay more attention to the anti-war movement than former President George W. Bush, but said Obama's call for increased forces in Afghanistan is "outrageous." Instead, she said, the president should be calling for troop withdrawals.

The rally featured representatives from dozens of local organizations -- everyone from the Sierra Club to the San Joaquin Valley Democratic Club.

The Fresno chapter of the Raging Grannies, a group of women promoting nonviolence, sang anti-war songs.

Cindy Sheehan, a San Francisco mother who gained national attention when she began protesting the wars following the death of her son in Iraq in 2004, urged those at the rally to lobby their congressional representatives to end the wars.

"We want Obama to declare an end to the war on terror," she told about 100 people gathered under tarps and umbrellas. "I don't even care if he said we won."

In an interview, Sheehan said she was pleased that Peace Fresno has continued hosting its annual rally in the conservative Central Valley.

"How awesome is it that they keep going and going in an environment that can be real hostile?" she said.

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