Local peace activists, comparing the U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf to this country's ill-fated involvement in Vietnam and the invasions of Panama and Grenada, are urging Baltimoreans to join an anti-war demonstration Jan. 19 in Washington.
"Panama we have raped. That other little country we have raped, Grenada," the Rev. Marion C. Bascom said yesterday during a rally at Union Baptist Church in West Baltimore. "Now we are in the process of prostituting ourselves in another country that is so different than ours."
Bascom, pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church, is among a circle of local ministers, political figures and community activists backing the planned march, which organizers expect to draw people nationwide. Simultaneous protests are planned for cities across the globe. Rome, Toronto, London and Sydney are among them.
The local organizers say they are opposed to several aspects of the Iraq conflict. One is U.S. foreign policy that they say punishes aggression and human rights violations selectively.
"The Bush administration is using a double standard in Kuwait," said Sheila Rao, a community activist. "Israel occupies part of Lebanon. Syria occupies part of Lebanon. But we don't concern ourselves with that."
Likewise, said Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, the United States has not opposed human rights violations by South Africa with the same fervor that it has gone after Iraq.
"I'd like to have see the kind of economic blockade we have against Iraq imposed on South Africa five, ten years ago," Bell said.
The organizers of the Jan. 19 demonstration also want to protest the vast sums of money -- $70 million a day, they said -- being spent on the military buildup in the Persian Gulf.
"Let's spend that money on people's needs, not war," said Brian Becker, an aide to former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who recently visited Iraq.
Also, organizers said, they find it insulting that Bush chose Jan. 15 -- the birthday of the late Martin Luther King Jr. and a day that they said should be reserved to celebrate peace and justice -- as a deadline for war with Iraq. Bush has said that Iraq will face military action if it has not withdrawn from Kuwait by that date.
Finally, they said, if war breaks out, the toll will fall disproportionately on minorities and the poor because they are disproportionately represented in the armed forces.
Military officials have said that 28.7 percent of the Army personnel involved in 400,000-troop Operation Desert Shield are black, while blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. pTC Overall, blacks are 20 percent of the U.S. military forces.
"Those of us, black and white, who are not of the upper echelon, so to speak, are going to be the ones to fight the war," Bell said, noting that many members of the military volunteered to take advantage of educational, travel and employment opportunities.
March organizers are planning another local planning meeting for Saturday morning at Union Baptist Church, 1219 Druid Hill Ave.
Former U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell said he is supporting the anti-war march because war is most often unnecessary.
Mitchell charged that the recent U.S. interventions in Grenada and Panama were aimed mostly at erasing what he calls the Vietnam syndrome, which caused most Americans to oppose war. War with Iraq is the next step in erasing that opposition, he said.
"Whoever says we should go to war, I ask them to go to Washington and look at a black, marble wall and read aloud the names of the 58,000 Americans who were killed in Vietnam," Mitchell said.