ON THE HOME FRONT
Antiwar activists plan nonviolent blockades
By Dana Hull, Knight Ridder, 3/1/2003
WASHINGTON -- If US-led forces attack Iraq, antiwar activists around the country plan to blockade federal buildings and disrupt major business districts with large protests and civil disobedience.
Many organizers have kept their intentions under wraps so that police and officials at targeted sites, including large corporations and US military bases, will be caught off guard. But drafts of some plans have appeared on websites, and training sessions on such topics as ''nonviolent blockades'' are underway.
Civil disobedience, the refusal to obey certain laws, has a long history. But protest tactics have evolved in recent years, aided by the coordinating powers of the Internet and by tactics designed to foil police. Instead of staging docile sit-ins, some demonstrators link hands by putting their arms through pipes and handcuffing their wrists together.
''Since Vietnam, a number of groups have added levels of sophistication to how they protest, from Greenpeace and the environmentalists on the left to antiabortion activists on the right,'' said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley. ''But it hasn't been mass-scale. Now they are taking those tactics and bringing them to the debate about the war.''
Some disruptions have already occurred: Eight antiwar protesters were arrested in Seattle on Feb. 18 after blocking the eastbound lanes of Highway 520, halting the morning commute.
In California, dozens of protesters plan to infiltrate Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast, hoping to disrupt work. A San Francisco-area collective called Direct Action to Stop the War plans to blockade the TransAmerica Pyramid, the Pacific Stock Exchange, and the Federal Reserve in San Francisco.
In Philadelphia, more than 1,200 people have signed a pledge to protest at the Philadelphia Federal Building two days after the war begins, said Robert M. Smith of Brandywine Peace Community.
''We will attempt to shut it down,'' he said. ''We plan to block every entrance into the facility through people using the strength of their presence and their bodies in the tradition of'' Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
Protesters in Washington may focus on the White House. A spokesman for a national group, Peace Action, said plans call for activists to gather at 5 p.m. on the day the United States goes to war, or at that time the next day if an attack begins at night. Scott Lynch said protesters would probably block a White House driveway.
During the Gulf War in 1991, protesters shut down the Bay Bridge that links San Francisco and Oakland for two days in a row, creating major traffic jams. This time, the focus is primarily on federal sites and large corporations that activists think have a financial interest in a war with Iraq.
This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 3/1/2003.