by Andrew Kay Liberman
While the world waits to see whether bombs will explode over Baghdad, implosions of a different kind are happening here at home. A world peace movement is unquestionably on the rise.
Step outside the boundaries of the U.S. via the Web, and one finds stories from Toronto to London, from Paris to Tokyo covering the revived anti-war movement. Over 400,000 marched in London in September; more in Florence last month. In the U.S., 10,000 protested at the L.A. Federal Building in October against the impending war on Iraq, and a few weeks after, 80,000 in San Francisco.
“Where did all these older activists come from?” asked a perplexed but pleased Angeleno, anti-war organizer Lily Espinoza,22, as she witnessed the hundreds of ‘older’ veteran activists assembled at the recent Office of the Americas benefit at the L.A. University Synagogue. Just back from Columbia University in New York, Espinoza thought she was part of a generation alone taking on corporate power and a U.S. war machine. Now, Espinoza is having a field day with an unending array of peace events to attend in L.A. County. On the streets, the peace movement is taking the form of ongoing vigils to oppose the war at busy street corners.
According to seasoned organizers, ever since the “Battle at Seattle” (the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization), where mostly young people breathed life back into public protest, something good has been afoot. In addition, the ascendancy of President George Bush has not impaired the move of concerned citizens to move to the left in their politics and become active participants for peace.
Adrienne Golstone is an attorney new to the peace movement, but one who has alone coordinated weeks of vigiling on the corner of 3rd and Fairfax in L.A. “We started with a few people, and now, when it doesn’t rain, we have 20 to 30 people vigiling,” Goldstone said. “All sorts of people show support driving and walking by. People want outlets; a door to activism.” Golstone added that “what’s driving the interest of people I know is that Bush is spending billion for war.”
Kelly Lee Riley, Interfaith Coordinator at Occidental College and citywide anti-war religious community staff member, attributed the Internet to the success of the budding peace movement . “That’s how it’s grown so quickly,” he acknowledged. “But if it is to grow bigger, it needs to include more people of color. To do that, the message needs to change from just “don’t attack Iraq” and “no war” to what the costs will be at home with this war; the loss of domestic programs,” he said.
While a war on Iraq would wreak havoc on that small nation, it would not go without repercussions at home. A veteran in more ways than one; both to the peace movement and as a two-term enlisted marine in Vietnam, unrelenting anti-war activist Ron Kovic, upon whose life Born on the Fourth of July was based, said, “The most dangerous threat in the world today is my own country. We have to speak out to stop this war. We live in the most tumultuous time in our history since the American Revolution; a wonderful time, but a very dangerous time. The challenge for leaders of the peace movement is to connect the dots between the anti-war movement and the world democratic movement.
In Pasadena, students invited Scott Ritter, the former U.S. weapons inspector who now advocates no war with Iraq, to speak in November. Four hundred seats were set aside and 1,000 people showed up; hundreds were turned away. Word on the Ritter speaking engagement was entirely via email with about one week’s notice.
There is another almost unnoticed silver lining to the war fever and business of battle: the homegrown anti-war literature, button, sticker, and t-shirt trade is booming. Donnelly/Colt, a premier peace company in Connecticut, says they can’t keep up with the orders. “I had to skip going to the D.C. demo just to stay back and fill orders,” Clay Colt said begrudgingly, having missed out on the massive protest in Washington, D.C. on October 26.
Santa Monica’s own local Jerry Rubin, who among o ther things vends peace goods at the Santa Monica Promenade, says, “People are hungry for this stuff. They see finally stopping this war is do-able.”
Across town, artist/activist Randy Herr makes guerrilla art and sells it in front of Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake. “I get an idea for an art piece early in the morning, go to Kinko’s and run it off, and take the materials to a rally,” says Herr. At the big October demo, Herr printed up Bush posters. Words at the top: “Hey Dude,” and under a large photo of Bush, “Where’s my war?”
“Sometimes I can’t even hold the stuff; people stop me before I got to the protest to buy it right out from my overstuffed hands,” Herr said. Veteran activists said the new peace movement is striving to learn from the history of peace movements over the last century.
“What we’re learning in building the movement this time,” Rubin said, “is we can’t just shout ‘No war, no war.’ We have to look inside ourselves and do this work in a dignified way. But at the same time, we can’t just sit cross-legged and meditate on peace while bombs fall. we need to expand and connect the political with the personal growth people,” he said. As interest in the movement grows, youths continue to inject new life. Ariana Tyksinski, a psychology and English major at Loyola Marymount said to Kovic, “I would be willing to do anything possible to help with this movement.” He responded, “You are the movement, Ariana. Do whatever you can do. We won’t be denied.”
— Andrew Kay Liberman is a freelance writer, longtime activist and organizer of the Coffee House Teach-Ins in L.A.