Iraq war foes plan protests in city

Organizers welcome `new spirit' of dissent

`Frustrated at the madness'

January 02, 2003|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

With war brewing on the other side of the world as a new year is ushered in, Baltimoreans are likely to see more anti-war protesters in 2003 - a sign of what peace leaders say is a new age of mobilization.

The word among activists is that more Marylanders are joining grass-roots peace networks and preparing for public dissent. The War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall and the federal courthouse on Pratt Street are major venues marked for "emergency demonstrations" should a war on Iraq break out, organizers said.

"There's little doubt there's a new spirit out there, with a mixture of people who were active in the Vietnam War days and new people," said Max Obuszewski, a spokesman for the American Friends Service Committee, an activist arm of the Religious Society of Friends pacifist religion.

Groups of high-profile protesters, including those who looked up to the late Philip Berrigan, are rallying in the Baltimore region to the anti-war cause. There's a march on Washington coming up, organizers are passing around a "pledge of resistance" for Marylanders to sign, and there's a campaign under way urging city houses of worship to take a stand against U.S. military action in Iraq.

Among the new coalition of protesters is Citizens for Peace, which began as a group of friends meeting in a Northeast Baltimore living room and quickly mustered nearly 200 marchers at a holiday lighting event a month ago.

Their earliest exercise was gathering outside Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office, urging her to vote against the war resolution - which she did. The next stop will be the Washington anti-war march Jan. 18.

"People are very frustrated at the madness of a war and not knowing what to do," said Peter French, a middle school teacher who held the first Citizens for Peace meeting at his Lauraville home.

A few are taking their protest abroad. Ellen Barfield, a peace activist who lives in Hampden, embarked on a journey to witness conditions in Iraq.

Barfield is on a peace team mission to the Middle East on behalf of a Chicago-based group, Voices in the Wilderness. (The group was fined $20,000 by the U.S. Treasury for delivering medicine to Iraqi civilian health care workers in defiance of government sanctions, spokeswoman Stephanie Schaudel said.)

Better known as Quakers, the Friends society holds hourlong vigils outside its 4805 York Road office and its Homewood meetinghouse at 3107 N. Charles St. at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays, respectively. The service committee intends to write to other religious institutions in Baltimore, asking each to speak out against a war.

Elizabeth McAlister, a founding member of Jonah House in West Baltimore with Berrigan, the activist, former priest and her husband, was briefly detained Monday for demonstrating outside the Pentagon against a possible war.

In an interview three weeks after Berrigan's death, McAlister said she also senses a new anti-war spirit.

"I do perceive more people willing to take risks, from grandmothers to young people, " McAlister said this week. Looking ahead to the Jan. 18 anti-war march at which she is to speak, she added, "I suspect we'll see the same in Washington, D.C."

The Baltimore Peace Action Network - a small collection of individuals - has become a way for war opponents to compare notes and strategies, organizers said.

Then there is a "pledge of resistance," which applies only to those willing to be arrested after committing acts of civil disobedience. At least 175 Marylanders have signed it, Obuszewski said, along with a estimated 5,000 people across the nation.

The prospect of fresh recruits to an anti-war cause heartens experienced dissenters who see Berrigan's passing as a sign of a new era.

"A lot of people I see are motivated by Phil's legacy," Obuszewski said.

Among those new to the art of resistance is Marcia Allwine, a secretary at a downtown law firm. Allwine said the Internet helped her find other city residents who oppose a military campaign in Iraq. She plans to take a training session on nonviolent resistance offered by the AFSC Jan. 5 and Jan. 11.

"Dissent is the most patriotic thing we can do. I tell you, I'm concerned about the direction this country is headed," she said. "I plan to be arrested."

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