At corner of Pratt and Light, a group holds out for peace

December 06, 2003|By GREGORY KANE

THE MOTORCADE that whisked President Bush through downtown Baltimore yesterday to a$2,000-a-plate fund-raising luncheon didn't drive past the corner of Light and Pratt streets, much to the chagrin of the demonstrators there.

Standing in the driving rain and freezing cold -- with occasional brisk winds adding insult to injury -- the protesters braved the elements to send the president a message: Most hadn't come to bury Bush, but they weren't about to praise him,either.

The demonstrators were in two distinct groups. One group, some of whose members were newcomers to this corner, had a decidedly anti-Bush message, carrying signs such as "Bush Lies." But others, women attired in black, are virtually veterans to this spot. Every Friday at noon, since October 2001, the group known as Women in Black has stood in this spot for exactly one hour. Their signs simply said "Peace," and said it in several languages.

Katharine W. LeVeque, clad in a black poncho that protected her from the driving rain, emphasized that Women in Black is not an organization.

"It's a movement," she said. Betsy Cunningham explained how the movement, started by Israeli women in 1988, works.

"We get diverse people to stand together," Cunningham said. "Jews stand with Palestinians. Serbians stand with Albanians. The message of the movement is a persistent message for peace."

LeVeque, Cunningham and their colleagues have been standing since the first American bombs landed on Afghanistan, a little less than a month after Sept. 11, 2001. Would it be fair to dismiss them as a bunch of left-wingers who figure the appropriate response to the deaths of 3,000 civilians from a terrorist act would have been for us all just to take a Valium?

Perhaps it would be simpler to just agree to disagree. And on the matter of Afghanistan and Iraq and domestic matters, there is much to agree to disagree about.

Ellen Robbins, one of the women in black, supports Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich for president. Kucinich didn't earn Robbins' support easily. She hasn't campaigned for a presidential candidate since 1968. You've probably guessed her choice was the peace candidate that year, then-Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

"Kucinich is the only candidate who wants to cut military spending and put the money into health care and schools," Robbins said. What would she have a President Kucinich do about Iraq?

"Bring the troops home," Robbins said.

What about the Iraqis who are cooperating with American forces? Should we leave them to the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party loyalists?

"I don't think there are that many people who supported this invasion," Robbins answered. "You can count them on one hand." What can't be counted on one hand are the thousands of Iraqis Hussein murdered, apparently for the sheer joy of it.

And those al-Qaida operatives and other terrorists who have gone to Iraq to fight: Would Robbins rather they be there, fighting trained American troops, or here, killing more civilians?

"They've just gone there because we gave them an opportunity," Robbins retorted. "We would have fewer terrorists if we had an enlightened foreign policy, including a serious effort to solve the Palestinian problem."

Darned left-wingers have an answer for everything.

I tried picking on the woman who carried a sign that should have been indefensible. Surely the holder of the sign that read "GOP: American Taliban" with a swastika painted in the "O" of "GOP" -- would have no snappy rejoinder.

"Do you think that's an appropriate sign?" I asked.

"Yes, I do," answered Valeria Pappas. "Republicans are trying to get rid of a woman's right to choose. That's what the Taliban did in Afghanistan: oppress women." The Patriot Act, Pappas added, is akin to legislation passed in Nazi Germany.

Now here I was under the impression that Republicans and Democrats passed the Patriot Act, and that former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, a Republican, has been a leading voice against it. As for oppressing women, wasn't it a Republican president -- Richard Nixon -- who signed into law Title IX, which forbids discrimination against women in higher education? The resulting explosion of women on the nation's campuses -- as well as the number of collegiate men's sports teams dropped to comply with some provisions of Title IX -- doesn't smack of the oppression of women to me.

Peter D. Molan, hoisting his "Veterans for Peace" banner above his head, took a position not as filled with hyperbole.

"We'd like to convince the Bush administration that its policies are misguided," Molan said, "that only poison plants can come from poison seeds. This Iraq policy has been fatally flawed from the outset. An international reconstruction of Iraq must take place."

That sounds like something a certain secretary of state tried to tell the president from the start.

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