Anti-war movement builds strength among disparate groups in Md.

Many expected to voice concerns at Washington peace march Saturday

Older generations involved

All oppose unilateral U.S. action against Iraq

October 24, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

As talk of war with Iraq intensified a few months ago, Susan Mcfarlane decided to find a way to express her concern in some public fashion. She wound up designing a button that said WOW -- for Women Opposing War.

In August, she had 250 printed in red, white and blue and began handing them out to her friends. Two months later, 10,000 buttons have been distributed, part of a nascent anti-war movement growing in the state among disparate groups of people -- from traditional peace advocates to loosely knit collections of friends, physicians and college students.

Some of them will be voicing their concerns Saturday in Washington at a peace march that will begin at Constitution Gardens adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial at 11 a.m., and end at the White House.

Unlike the protests of the Vietnam era that were born on college campuses, the current movement seems to have garnered as much support from older generations that span several eras -- World War II, Korea and Vietnam -- as from those in their teens and 20s.

The protesters include Mcfarlane, a gray-haired, mild-mannered woman whose message is of compassion; a group of city school teachers; and St. John's College students who organized a protest at the State House in Annapolis a little over a week ago.

However, they seem to share the belief that unilateral action against Iraq would be a mistake.

"Our group is not opposed to war across the board or war in Iraq, in any case. We just feel it can be handled better," said Ryan Rylee, a St. John's College senior who has helped organize the St. John's College Student Coalition for Social Responsibility. "One thing we all agree on is that the issue needs more discussion and questioning than has been allowed."

Since the end of the summer, a number of local groups have been formed out of concern over possible war with Iraq. Citizens for Peace emerged from discussions among friends about ways to make a difference in the political discussion in Washington, said Peter French, a city school teacher who helped organize the group last month. Citizens for Peace, which includes a musician, an author, a librarian and other teachers, decided to try to influence the vote of U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. So they held two protests in front of her office, one of which they said attracted more than 100 people.

Waving thawing waffles in the air, French said the group tried to get her to stop "waffling" on the issue just days before the vote. Mikulski and U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, both Democrats, voted against a measure to give President Bush broad authority to use military force against Iraq.

Mcfarlane's action was similarly spontaneous, but instead of using confrontation, she asked people to tell President Bush they believed he is too compassionate and ethical a man to engage in war with Iraq.

Some groups formed after Sept. 11 of last year have turned their focus toward war protest in the past several months. Women in Black, a loose-knit coalition of women, organized the Peace Path along Charles Street on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Hundreds of people lined the street to remember the deaths in Washington, Pennsylvania and New York, but many signs had an anti-war theme as well.

The American Friends Service Committee, which has opposed many wars over the years, has seen an increase in calls and interest in the peace movement in the past several months. Gary Gillespie, the Baltimore program director, said a group of about eight people has maintained a vigil from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. every Friday on Charles Street outside the Homewood Friends Meeting House since Sept. 11 of last year. In recent weeks, the number has grown to about 80, he said.

Nearby, at the Johns Hopkins University campus, a group of professors and graduate students organized a recent teach-in. Paul Kramer, assistant history professor, said, "Our hope is to get people thinking about the issues and to also do what we can to build at Hopkins a community that is able to raise questions if war comes."

Activists said they expected hundreds of people locally to participate in the peace march Saturday, including members of Physicians for Social Responsibility, nuns from the School Sisters of Notre Dame and a group from the American Friends Service Committee.

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