From Citizen To Activist

The Conversion Of Laura Brodie

The Making of an activist

Laura Brodie is a mother, author, teacher, taxpayer and voter. But in the threat of war with Iraq, she discovered another identity.

Cover Story

November 03, 2002|By Lisa Pollak | By Lisa Pollak,sun staff

This is exactly what she didn't want, you know. The headline, the pictures, all the focus on her. As if she's the important part of this story, one woman marching in a crowd through the streets of the nation's capital, carrying a sign that says "We Are From Lexington, Va. and We Oppose This War."

True, she drove more than three hours to get here, and she left her three little girls and husband back home, and the button she's wearing -- "No War Against Iraq" -- is one of 500 she ordered this summer, and until this summer she'd never even worn a button before, let alone held a sign, marched in a protest, lobbied her senators, planned a demonstration or walked into the office of a national peace organization to ask how she could help prevent a war.

See? This is just what Laura Brodie was afraid of. Because as far as she's concerned, every sentence we devote to her, every detail of the journey that brought her to Washington last weekend, just keeps us from getting to the more important part of the story, the part where the Marine general comes to the military college and says that a U.S. attack on Iraq would be wrong.

Where Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, stands in an auditorium at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington and tells 650 cadets and concerned citizens gathered at a forum that ousting Saddam Hussein isn't "worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier, let alone a lance corporal or a specialist from one of our United States military's finest."

Riveting words, to be sure, and she'd prefer you hear more of them. Never mind that the forum at VMI was her idea in the first place, and so was inviting the outspoken general to be on the panel discussing the case for war. She'd rather people hear his words, his argument, than hers.

But there's no denying that Brodie is part of the story now, too. Maybe even the most important part: a first-time activist, driven to action by the threat of war.

Last weekend's anti-war rally in Washington is being called the largest since the Vietnam era, and the familiar faces were well-represented: Quakers and Greens, socialists and anarchists. There were boa-wearing roller skaters, an Uncle Sam on stilts, dreadlocked college students playing bongos.

But Laura Brodie -- mother, English professor, wife of VMI's band director -- was there, too, and so were plenty of people who looked just like her. She didn't join the chants of "Drop Bush, Not Bombs!" but her cries of "No War!" were as loud as anyone's. Maybe louder. Hers is the voice of the newly awakened activist, resolute and hopeful. She believes in the process, in her ability to make a difference. While others may grow cynical in the face of defeat, she finds inspiration in the smallest victories, in the increasing number of like-minded voices stepping up to be heard.

Organizers say 200,000 marched last weekend; police put the estimate at 100,000. But for Laura Brodie, perhaps the number that matters most is 14.

Before the parade of signs and banners fill the streets, before chants of resistance sound outside the White House, 14 people from the small town of Lexington, Va., meet on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Together, they walk to the rally, and together they stand in the growing crowd. Brodie stands among them, holding the white posterboard sign that she inked that morning, wearing a gray cardigan sweater and jeans.

And, of course, her button.

It begins with one person. One person reading an article about a U.S. plan to invade Iraq. One person, filled with a sense of dread and disgust. One person writing letters to newspapers that don't get printed and sending e-mails to senators that only get form letters in response. One person making phone calls, posing questions to friends and strangers: Is anyone else concerned? Is anything being done?

One person, going to a party.

That's right. A party. A midsummer party to celebrate a friend's new book.

Some guests are wearing little blue buttons advertising the name of the novel, a romantic suspense tale called Pretend I'm Not Here.

Brodie looks at the buttons. They're a clever gimmick, to be sure. But with everything on her mind, she sees something else, too: a way to communicate.

A way to make her voice heard, to spark conversations in her community, to put a face on her position. Or, as much of her position as can fit on a button, anyway. Even a political neophyte knows that "No Unilateral U.S. War Against Iraq Without Proof of Imminent Threat" isn't exactly button material.

"No War Against Iraq," she tells the man at a button company in Florida. Over the phone, she asks him: Are people down there talking about this issue? No, the man says. Not really.

Political action takes many forms, and in the months to come she will experience a great deal of them. But for Brodie, being an activist begins with a button. Not one button, but 500 buttons, at 34 cents each.

The first day she wears one, she has an appointment for a massage.

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