Neo-peace activists are from all walks of life

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Although it’s too early to tell whether they will become a potent political force, activists have persuaded 43 city councils to adopt anti-war resolutions, paid for a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal, circulated petitions via the Internet and drawn growing numbers of demonstrators nationwide.

The protesters are diverse, decentralized and disagree on some issues. They include longtime pacifists, Gulf War veterans, people who believe President Bush stole the 2000 election, people who voted for him, kids with purple hair, CEOs, labor organizers, academics, churchgoers, and soccer moms.

“Many of us think this rush toward war is crazy, and there is great urgency to stop it,” said Jane Hyde, 43, a suburban “soccer mom” in Orinda, Calif. “Some of the people involved have overlapping issues and don’t agree about some things, but we all agree about this war.”

Retired Vice Adm. Jack Shanahan of Ormond Beach, Fla., recently signed a full-page Wall Street Journal ad, a “dissent on Iraq” organized by Republicans and business leaders.

“Iraq represents no threat today to national security that warrants a pre-emptive invasion,” said Shanahan, a 37-year Navy veteran who served in three wars. “In war, you kill people and break things. There ought to be a better way.”

Thousands of anti-war demonstrators are expected this weekend in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and more than 80 other U.S. cities. Their benchmark for size is 100,000, the estimated crowd at a similar march in Washington, D.C., in October.

“What’s happened recently impresses me as fairly mainstream — unions and churches, for example,” said Todd Gitlin, a sociologist and author who has studied protest movements. “It’s like many movements — sloppy, decentralized, diffuse — but that’s not necessarily a weakness.”

Anti-war organizers, aided by the Internet, say they are beginning to organize online petition drives, letter-writing, teach-ins on campuses and in churches, and protests at traffic intersections.

“I’ve noticed a remarkable diversity at events, from leftists to some conservatives,” David Fox said of protests he’s joined in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Charley Richardson, a labor activist from Boston, went to a meeting last week in a Chicago Teamsters hall attended by 100 representatives of 60 union locals that have passed resolutions opposing an Iraq war.

“That would not have happened during the 1960s, and remember, so far not a single body bag has come back yet,” said Richardson, who marched against the Vietnam War.

Richardson and his wife, Nancy Lessin, have a personal stake in this cause. Their son Joe, an Arabic specialist in the Marines, is deployed in the Persian Gulf.

“We don’t speak for Joe, and we don’t want to get him in trouble,” said Lessin, who works for the AFL-CIO. “We send cookies and brownies, and we also fight to stop this war.”

The Internet enabled Fox, a 33-year-old paleontologist at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, to circulate his anti-war petition widely. He began at Minnesota and, with the help of colleagues, created a Web site that has attracted 33,000 signatures from campuses nationwide.

“It’s easy to organize on the Internet, but will people sign a petition and say that’s enough?” Fox asked. “It’s going to be difficult to measure effectiveness.”

He’s not optimistic.

“I don’t think we can stop this war, because that decision has been made,” Fox said. “But we can build a coalition and make sure the Bush administration suffers politically down the road for this.”

Some activists concede they are encountering resistance. When Hyde waved a “Soccer Mom Against War” sign at one rally, a driver screamed at her: “Go back to Berkeley.”

Richardson said one motorist threw pencils at him outside Boston. In Charlotte, N.C., police intervened on New Year’s Day when about a dozen veterans confronted 50 protesters at that city’s Vietnam Veterans memorial.

The protests are drawing Republican defectors. Ed Hamm, an oil executive and major Republican donor, helped plan the Wall Street Journal “dissent” ad. Liz Viering, who supported Bush and attended his inauguration, signed it.

“I don’t like what Bush is doing, and I think we’re being lied to,” said Viering, 50, who owns a real-estate company in Stonington, Conn. “I have supported George Bush on other things, so maybe this will have more impact.”

Some veterans also oppose war on Iraq. Erik Gustafson and Charles Sheehan-Miles, two Gulf War vets, organized Veterans for Common Sense, which has questioned Bush policy. Gustafson said about 400 veterans signed their statement.

“I killed a lot of Iraqis in the last war, and 12 (people) in my division were killed,” said Sheehan-Miles, a former tank crewman. “This time, I’m worried about urban warfare and a lot of casualties.”

Participants aren’t necessarily against the same thing. Some oppose any war against Iraq; others would back a U.N.-authorized military action to disarm Saddam Hussein.

A coalition called International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) is organizing today’s protests. ANSWER organizers, who last year sponsored pro-Palestinian rallies that featured harsh anti-Israel rhetoric, say the United States has become a dangerous force in the world.

One leader is Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general who has defended many radicals and Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader who is standing trial on war-crimes charges.

Hyde said she decided to leave a San Francisco march “when the anti-Israel dogma made me uncomfortable,” but she added: “That’s to be expected when different people come together like this.”

A more centrist group, United for Peace, is working with ANSWER, sometimes uneasily.

“ANSWER appeals more to the left, and I think we appeal more to the mainstream,” said Jason Kafoury, an organizer for United for Peace. “But we’re helping each other mobilize people. There are different groups and constituencies, but we have the same message: Stop the war.”

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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