portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

imperialism & war | political theory

Too many causes?

Posted on Sun, Feb. 16, 2003

Quirky causes hinder efforts to prevent war
By Peter Delevett
Mercury News

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.

Big tent

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.
dude... you are crazy! 17.Feb.2003 00:18


you said:
"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."

the CENTER of the movement was "white people"? huh? why was the anti war movement "the movement?" that is crazy!

the black panthers and the southern civil rights movement radicalized and initiated much of the popular dissent in the 60's, why are you prioritizing the mainly WHITE anti-war movement?

this seems like white racism to me...

you go on:
"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."

again, the "organizers" are almost ALWAYS white, and middle class. this has an effect on what issues are covered, who shows up to the protest, etc.

We need to be addressing these things. It also is worth noting your totalitarian nature that keeps coming up in your article.

i think we should change "the model" that is used currently - where the "organizers" have all the control over what happens at demos, with people being herded around like enslaved cows.


just some of my thoughts

express yourself! 17.Feb.2003 00:21


it is an anti war march with many voices. the recent marches were because of the war, but they have many voices to. how interesting is a march where every one has a 'no war' sign? its the bleating of the sheep protest.
and how many people who eat meat are being picked on at an anti war march? People can voice their oppinions. if someone feels threatened and/or isolated by a 'meat is murder' sign someone is holding, im not sure how they ever became open minded enough to walk with a huge group of anti war marchers in the first place. im not in the least bit christian but im happy to see pro-christian marchers along side us. they are there to strengthen us in so many ways. we should be fighting the people who dont want other views represented, when the march goes on news with 100,000 people staring into the camera from the street, i believe the general message will be that we dont want a fucking war.

Valid points all 17.Feb.2003 05:03

Post-it hippie

I got this report from another site. I don't necissarily agree with everything he wrote in the article. My purpose was to point out that too many agendas promoted at once tends to muddy the water. A plurality of voices with one purpose is a good thing.

muddy the waters 17.Feb.2003 12:08


Do they muddy the waters? or do they make the "water" more like a colorful oil slick?

If a soccer mom gets SCARED(!) and goes home because she saw someone waving a vegan sign -then she lacks her convictions in MAJOR way.

Some argue that these diverse set of agendas confuse the movement but I think that is an insult to peoples intelligence. What about these signs giving certain unacknowledged causes MORE light? perhaps a new light?

Maybe these fragile soccer moms will learn something rather than scurry home to the safety of her TV set? I would like to hope so.

This is not the 1960's. This is movement towards a sustainable world civilization. This isn't JUST about war but the politics of war-for-profit imperialism.

It's the dawn of a new age, and not in a poetic sort of way. Cultures will grow and change with it, whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not.

Other causes 17.Feb.2003 18:10

Lynn Porter

In last month's peace march I carried a sign that said "Don't cut Oregon Health Plan." I figured just being in the march it was obvious that I was for peace. There are a lot of other issues besides the impending war that need attention from us, and aren't getting it. People are dying in Oregon because of state healthcare cuts. There is a war on at home too. The ship of state is sinking and the legislature is pushing poor people out of the lifeboats. I will do everything I can to force people to pay attention. Part of the attraction of war to this, or any, president is that it pushes domestic issues off the front page. Help us bring them back.