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Volume 2, Number 47              January 5 - 11, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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The changing face of peace
New antiwar movement attracts unlikely allies

By Jennifer Carnig

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Sunday, January 12, 2003 - Lois Brown has always considered herself to be politically conservative. ``Not a nut, but conservative,'' the 74-year-old San Lorenzo resident says, adjusting her thick brown glasses. So it might be surprising to some people that Brown recently joined the South Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition, a Hayward-based group that formed over the past year to protest military action in Iraq and American anti-terrorism policies that they say abuse civil liberties.

``I've never been involved with anything like this before - not a day in my life. But I'm absolutely disgusted,'' Brown, a grandmother and registered Republican, says dryly. ``So I'm trying to do something.''

The group is an unlikely thread in the tapestry that is the modern antiwar movement. At a recent New Year's Eve meeting in a cozy Castro Valley home, about two dozen members ate cheese and crackers, sipped cocktails and argued about the best way to get the USA Patriot Act repealed, a fireplace glowing in the background.

Almost none of the members protested Vietnam and a few, like Brown, have never held a picket sign a day in their life - until now. There are no Communists, long-haired hippies or radical bra-burners here. Instead there are sweater vests, orthopedic shoes, parents, grandparents, blue-collar workers and three Muslim women, their hair covered by long black scarves.

They're white, Latino and Middle Eastern, and they're in their 20s on up through their twilight years. They're a mis-matched group united in one thing: their fear of the Bush administration and an ``unjust war'' in Iraq.

``We're not these out-of-the-mainstream, out-of-this-world weirdos,'' says Moina Shaiq, a Fremont mother of four who was recently appointed to the city's Human Relations Commission. ``We just don't want to see people suffer.''

They join an extraordinary array of antiwar organizations from across the country. Some of the groups include longtime radical groups like the International Socialist Organization, but others have not traditionally been known for taking stands against the government. There are religious movements, including members of every mainstream faith and denomination, veteran's movements, immigrant movements, labor and union movements and even business and corporate movements.

There are also Latino and black organizations, thousands of campus antiwar groups and countless collaborations like the South Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition, made up of ordinary citizens meeting in living rooms, kitchens and community centers coast to coast. ``Things are different now than they ever have been before,'' explains 75-year-old Hayward resident Jim Forsyth, a retired auto worker who became politically active through his union.

``What the Bush administration is doing in unprecedented. We've never in our history attacked a sovereign nation that didn't show us prior aggression. I think that's why our movement is gaining so much support. In Vietnam we could say we had the fig leaf of supporting the South Vietnamese. Here, we don't have anything.''

And while support for an attack on Iraq is strong nationally - a Los Angeles Times poll conducted last month found that 58 percent of adults support one - it appears that the support has deteriorated. - down from 64 percent in an August L.A. Times poll. After President Bush first denounced Saddam Hussein in his State of the Union address, more than 70 percent of Americans favored military action.

Traditionally, however, support is low before military action begins but increases after troops are on the ground.

President Bush maintains that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction which could be used to seriously harm the world community. United Nations inspectors have searched Iraq for the past two months for evidence of those weapons, and on Thursday reported to the U.N. that they've found nothing.

Mother-daughter activists

``I don't think peace is always the answer,'' says Denise Cutbirth, a 49-year-old mother of two from Pleasanton. ``Sometimes war is necessary. But this is a war over oil. I've seen no proof of anything else. They can show satellite photos of nuclear sites in Iran, but they can't show us anything here. I can't with good conscious support a war without proof, and I can't support a war unless we've exhausted our resources to avoid one. We haven't done either here.''

Cutbirth's mother, 73-year-old Faye Butler of Fremont, has been an activist all of her adult life. She's against ``any kind of killing,'' and has been arrested more times than she can count protesting the death penalty at San Quentin and nuclear weapons in Livermore. It's an _expression of her faith, Butler says, and now with the threat of war looming, she's collected more than 300 signatures for an Iraq Peace Pledge through Pax Christi, a Catholic peace group to which she belongs.

``I can't stand knowing that innocent mothers and children will die with my tax dollars. And I can't stand knowing that some of our boys will suffer, too,'' Butler says, referring to the about 100,000 American troops already stationed in the Persian Gulf. ``I have to stand up against it.'' But as many times as Butler has protested, Cutbirth never joined her. Until now. In October, for the first time, Cutbirth marched with her mother in San Francisco.

``I brought my 6-year-old son, and he said to me `We need to tell Bush that war is bad. We need to tell him we need peace,'{LEFTBRAK}th{RITEBRAK},'' Cutbirth says. ``That really touched me. If a child can see that then we need to stand up for them. We have to speak on their behalf. I care too much for my children to allow them to see only a future filled with war.''

Between 80,000 and 100,000 marched in San Francisco that day and equal numbers took to the streets of the nation's capital. It was an unprecedented protest, says Richard Becker, national coordinator of Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), a San Francisco-based group that organized the march.

To spread the word about the October protest, ANSWER took out ads in local newspapers and fliers circulated as deep into the suburbs as Pleasanton and Tracy. And the success of the rally marked a new chapter in the antiwar movement, Becker says.

``In Vietnam it took us until 1976 to have a demonstration the size of the one we had Oct. 26,'' he says. ``In 1964 we had 20,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam but in '62, '63 and '64 we'd only have 100 people at demonstrations. This is an entirely new movement. People want to stop the war before even one body bag comes home.''

Even with those kinds of numbers coming out, antiwar groups operate largely without the attention of the mainstream media and Capitol Hill. Yet many of those speaking out against war in Iraq represent large numbers of Americans, including John J. Sweeney, president of the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO, the National Council of Churches, representing 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominations and 50 million members and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the leadership arm of 65 million Roman Catholics.

The Pope even spoke out against the possible war in his annual Christmas day message to the world.

``No matter how we're represented in the media, the peace movement is not this radical Berkeley/San Francisco thing,'' says Monica Vincent, 46, a Fremont dental hygienist. Vincent and her economist and military veteran husband started their own antiwar group, Tri-City Peace Action, and every Friday night since Sept. 11 a group of about a dozen have stood vigil on the corner of Mowry Avenue and Fremont Boulevard.

``We get `Nuke 'em all,' or `Kill the Arabs' sometimes from people, but most of the time we get honks and waves and peace signs flashed at us,'' Vincent says. ``Going there and standing on that corner is how I express my patriotism. It's part of a healthy democracy to express descent, to ask questions. Being there is one of the ways I do my American duty.''

Her organization has also hosted about a dozen community forums and lectures, where local folks can ask questions of journalists, professors and political scientists.

The Rev. Chris Schriner, the 59-year-old pastor of Mission Peak Unitarian- Universalist Church in Fremont, was one of those speakers. He also shares his message of peace over the pulpit and has led several letter-writing campaigns with his congregation.

As a youth growing up in the conservative Imperial Valley, Schriner was a self-described ``Goldwater Republican.''

``I was part of a religious group in college the first time I met antiwar activists, and I remember thinking that they were nice people but I felt sorry for them because they were obviously Communist dupes,'' Schriner says, laughing. ``So you see, I'm not a pacifist. But most wars look like good ideas at the time, and then when you look back on them you can see how misguided they were - as we have with Vietnam. I just try to get my congregation asking questions. I want them to think critically about the steps our government is taking and then make up their own minds.''

Veteran for peace

A desire to educate is the same reason Berkeley resident Paul Cox is involved in the peace movement. A Marine Corp Veteran who served a tour-and-a-half in Vietnam, Cox is a leader in the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. Born and raised in Oklahoma, he joined the military when he was drafted in 1968 and ``never really thought anything of it. I knew it was a controversial issue, but it wasn't really where I was from so I never questioned what was happening.''

It wasn't until his last six months in Vietnam when he was transferred south of Danang that he says he opened his eyes.

``That's when I saw how the war affected Vietnamese civilians,'' Cox says, 54, now an engineer and the father of twins. ``We were treating them really, really badly - and consistently badly. I was amazed that any Vietnamese survived. I left really angry at myself for being such a chump - for not having known enough before I went, for being a part of something so brutal.''

Now Cox and a group of 50 veterans speak at high schools and colleges, trying to educate young people on the military ``so they can get the real story, and hear the graphic, brutal truth about war. I don't want them to make the mistake I did and blindly accept what the government tells them.''

And the truth, he says, is that 95 percent of casualties in war are usually civilians. In Vietnam, between 2 and 3 million peasants were killed. His voice is somber, but Cox says he's sure that the toll of civilian deaths will be high if there's war in Iraq, too. He points to a U.N. report made public this past week that says as many as 500,000 people in Iraq could suffer injuries and require medical treatment in the event of war.

``But this war's different in the fact that the American people are questioning why it is that we would pre-emptively strike a sovereign nation,'' Cox says. ``The support for the war is thin. I've got relatives back in conservative Oklahoma who are asking, `Wait, why are we doing this?'

And even in the veterans' community, where we have a lot of right-wingers who have never in their life questioned the U.S. government, I hear more and more people asking the same thing - `Remind me again why we're doing this?' And the truth is, nobody knows.''


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