Peace movement now is mix of old, new protesters with Middle American touch WAR IN THE GULF

January 20, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The day after the United States bombed Baghdad, a dismayed Jan Stone showed up at a park across from the White House and held up a hand-made sign: "Oxymoron: Fight for Peace?"

The 41-year-old Virginia artist had not participated in a political protest since she marched against the Vietnam War. "I had the TV and radio on at home, and I just couldn't stand it any more," said the mother of two as she stared, stone-faced, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. "I was getting so frustrated, and I thought: I've got to be heard. I've got to be heard."

Across the nation, there was an almost instantaneous reaction in the streets to President Bush's announcement of the fighting in the Persian Gulf. Thousands of Americans, demanding "No More War," became the groundswell of an anti-war movement that -- while based on a '60s model -- has a '90s sophistication. There are the younger, junior-high-age '60s "wannabees" and the usual radicals. But grass-roots groups, clergy, college students and Vietnam veterans are giving the movement a decidedly Middle American slant.

While the movement is too young to assess whether the sporadic, and mostly spontaneous, protests will build into formidable opposition, peace activists have managed to cast their net over a fairly diverse group of supporters.

Many churches, for instance, were voting over the weekend whether to serve as sanctuaries for war resisters, and several have begun civil-disobedience workshops for members who plan engage in war protests.

Next week, students on college campuses across the nation plan to boycott classes in favor of planning war opposition efforts. The list of supporters of the blossoming anti-war movement is beginning to have an almost Main Street ring: the American Library Association, the National Council of Churches, the National Organization for Women.

Two national marches against the war were planned weeks before the first shots were fired, and there have been peace marches, candle-light vigils, teach-ins and special town meetings rural hamlets and big cities from coast to coast for the past several months.

In recent days, the movement has also plugged into a fairly sophisticated communications network: Volunteers for the environmental group Greenpeace, for instance, last week began knocking on 25,000 doors a night across America, encouraging people to mobilize against the war.

Student groups are in touch by fax, and peace activists have begun to employ the direct-mail machines of some fairly large groups, such as NOW.

"It isn't just old lefties opposing this war," noted University of Michigan philosophy professor Frithjof Bergmann, who was credited with creating the teach-in during the Vietnam War. "Look at all the religious groups, the parents. There seems to be a tradition [of anti-war protest] people can link up with, but it's different this time."

"Now, very few people believe we'll change the world. We aren't flower children bringing peace and love," Mr. Bergmann said. "No, right now the only thing anyone wants is for this to be negotiated, not fought over."

Several national polls conducted following the U.S. bombing of Iraq Wednesday night showed tremendous support for President Bush, and protesters opposing the military action have been routinely confronted by supporters of the war. But organizers believe that the rally-round-the-president euphoria will give way quickly to sizable anti-war sentiment if the war drags on -- and as casualties mount.

"Nobody wants this war, it's that simple," said Kim Seicke, a student organizer for the Chicago-based Progressive Student Network, which has links on 150 campuses. "We had 2,000 people protesting at the University of Iowa Thursday -- the University of Iowa," Ms. Seicke said. "This is a place where 200 is considered a good turn-out."

She said students from fraternities, black student unions, pro-life groups and environmental organizations are joining the anti-war

demonstrations. Students from high school and junior high are participating as well.

Huddled together in Lafayette Park across from the White House, where peace protesters have congregated for weeks, a half-dozen students from St. John's College in Annapolis stood under a sign the other day that said: "We are intelligent, informed, politically correct collegestudents against the war in Iraq."

For now, the major anti-war demonstrations are being coordinated by two rival New York-based groups, the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East and the National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East.

The former, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and known informally as the "January 19th Group" because of its sponsorship of yesterday's march, believes Iraq should not be condemned for invading Kuwait. Rather, the group believes the United States should be condemned as a result of its military and economic sanctions against Iraq.

The more moderate National Campaign, which will lead a national anti-war march in Washington next Saturday, has condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and believes the economic sanctions against Iraq should have been given more time to work.

In the past weeks, the two groups have engaged privately in sometimes nasty exchanges, but most seem to believe that the onset of war will bring about a unified front. "I think the thing is going to be so big, it doesn't really matter," said NOW president Molly Yard. "My guess is this movement will grow -- and grow. What's significant is that these protests started before the war did."

Both national groups share a single slogan: "Bring the U.S. troops home now!"

The groups have also linked their aversion to the war with concerns over domestic issues: AIDS research, the homeless, housing, health care, poverty.

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