Posted on Sun, Feb. 16, 2003
Quirky causes hinder efforts to prevent war
By Peter Delevett
My grandmother, who moved from New England to Big Sur in the 1960s and became a heavyweight hippie, was telling me last month about the anti-war movement's heyday. She asked why current peace protests weren't getting much media attention, and I told her the movement needed to do something big.
``Oh, we will,'' she declared. ``We've done it before.''
She was right. A week later, more than 100,000 people massed in San Francisco to protest war with Iraq, while hundreds more marched in San Jose and along the Peninsula.
But something bugged me about those protests. For every sign I saw urging peace, another demanded that I go vegan or stop driving SUVs.
One sign read, ``The most violent weapon on Earth is the table fork.''
And I thought: ``Oh, puh-LEASE.''
Imagine you're a soccer mom or senior who's never done anything more politically radical than vote. You're frightened that this war may be a terrible mistake, so you come down to make your voice heard. And you see circus people telling you meat is murder, so you get turned off or scared off and go home.
The result: That rally is smaller than it might have been.
With up to half a million protesters from across the Bay Area expected in San Francisco today, I hope they'll consider those soccer moms.
If the real concern is peace vs. war, there's no need to dilute the message -- or give the people in power an excuse to dismiss the protests as the work of the lunatic fringe.
I bounced this theory off a handful of local activists who cut their teeth in the '60s and are in the thick of this weekend's marches. Most disagreed.
``The peace movement has always been fractured,'' said Sydney Brown, who rallied against the Vietnam War with her late husband, the Rev. Robert McAfee Brown.
True. But the '60s peace movement ultimately gained clout and forced Washington to react because the radicals at the movement's core were joined by others: blacks, veterans, squares, the Silent Majority.
Jeff Lustig, an anti-war organizer and government professor at California State University-Sacramento, says President Bush won't listen to protesters no matter what signs they're carrying.
But I'd argue that Bush will be more likely to pay attention if he sees people like himself -- white, suburban, Protestant America -- joining the protests. Those people should feel welcomed.
To really move the needle, you need more than Berkeley coffeehouse radicals. You also need Belmont coffee-shop Realtors.
Groups like California Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee seem to get that. They're trying to reach beyond the hard-core left -- especially in places like San Jose that don't have a tradition of firebrand activism.
Lustig says people who might be turned off by the meat-bashers ``weren't that committed to begin with.'' But that strikes me as dangerous ground, the same kind of ``you're either with us or agin us'' stridency coming from the White House.
Put down the tofu dog
Let's be clear: I understand it's a free country that's built on free speech. Any person has the right to carry any sign, any place, at any time.
Nor do I think rally organizers should, or could, police the signs people bring -- though it's worth noting that organizers generally control who gets to use the microphone.
But here's my beef, if you'll pardon the pun: If people show up at this weekend's rallies demanding we all make love to the redwoods or stop nuking the unborn whales, it makes the rallies, by extension, look silly.
And given the deadly serious stakes as war with Iraq looms, the peace movement can't afford that.
So today, before you dress up like a block of tofu or a biker nun in drag, just ask yourself: Might it be more important to put your personal crusade on the back burner?
Peter Delevett's column appears Sunday and Wednesday. If you've got a scoop, e-mail pdelevett@sjmercury. com or call (408) 271-3638. To subscribe to his e-mail dispatch, see www.peterdelevett.com.