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Rallies decry war on Iraq

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Rallies decry war on Iraq

<www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2003/March/20/local/stories/01local.htm>

March 20, 2003
By BRIAN SEALSand DONNA JONES
Sentinel staff writers

War opponents in Santa Cruz made a last-ditch stand for peace Wednesday.
Shortly after President Bush’s deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, war opponents descended on the Town Clock to once again oppose the impending war.
About 50 people were at the clock shortly after the 5 p.m. PST deadline, but the crowd swelled to close to 200 by about 6 p.m.
Later in the evening, television news showed anti-aircraft fire in the skies above Baghdad and said “targets of military opportunity” had been bombed.
At about 7:15, President Bush appeared on television to announce the beginning of the bombing.
As protester Paul Hindson said, in Santa Cruz, antiwar protests are “preaching to the converted.”
But most in the crowd said it was a crucial time to stand up and be counted, even if it wouldn’t change the Bush administration’s war plans.
“It’s better to be visible than sitting at home watching television or pretending nothing is happening,” Hindson said.
As with past protests in the city, the protesters covered the social strata from high school and college students, to middle-age parents to punks, and hippies long familiar with the art of protest.
They offered what are now oft-stated reasons for opposition saying it was more about oil than terrorism, war would aggravate an already ailing economy, the conflict doesn’t have United Nations backing and that the United States is only further alienating the world community, to name a few.
“If they’re not listening to people and calling the people a ‘focus group,’ that means we need to have regime change not only in Iraq but also in the United States,” said Santa Cruz High School student Josh Sonnenfeld, participating in his second antiwar event of the day after a midday walkout at the school.
Jean Peterson dressed in black to communicate her somber mood.
“I just feel so appalled by the decision to go to war,” Peterson said. WE are now the dominators and oppressors.”
Shelley Paige of Santa Cruz said it was important to show opposition, effectiveness notwithstanding. And, she said, though she’s against the war, she supports the troops who have to do the dirty work.
“I pray they all come home very soon,” Paige said.
While the nation anxiously listened and watched news reports throughout the day, peace activists in the county, throughout California and around the nation made their eleventh-hour plea for peace.
Area high school students staged a lunch time walkout.
About 200 of Santa Cruz High School’s 1,200 students walked out of classes at noon Wednesday, and rallied on the front lawn to protest war.
At Harbor High School, about 60 students cut classes, though they stayed at school all day and held a teach-in with speakers from the Resource Center for Nonviolence and the Army.
Dash Pomerantz, a Santa Cruz senior, turns 18 next week, and expects enlistment information to come in the mail any day. He’s against the war, but said his opposition would be less passionate if the United States had gained the approval of the United Nations.
“The person who controls this country feels he can decide the fates of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Pomerantz was in the majority at Santa Cruz, but about a dozen students expressed support for the war.
Daniel Rossini, a 17-year-old junior, held a sign that read, “If you don’t like what our country is doing, then get out.”
“I don’t totally agree with war, but if we don’t do something, we might let it get out of hand,” Rossini said. “(Saddam Hussein) was killing people, and if he builds weapons, he is going to use them one day.”
As antiwar activists across California finalized plans Wednesday to protest the war, police braced for civil disobedience that some protesters hope will shut areas including San Francisco’s financial district.
With the months-long buildup to an advance on Baghdad, protest organizers have had plenty of time to plan. Though most groups intend to hold subdued rallies and vigils, others have said only open defiance of authorities will get across their message.
San Francisco, where protesters have shut down major intersections during the morning commute twice in recent days, is the center of those efforts.
“We’re trying to be ready for the worst, but we’re hoping for the best,” said San Francisco police spokesman Bob Mammone.
As in San Francisco, police in Los Angeles promised 12-hour shifts to keep as many officers as possible on the street.
Prewar protests dotted the state Wednesday.
In Berkeley, traffic on Interstate 80 slowed to view anti-war signs on an overpass. About 500 workers in Oakland spent their lunch hour winding a peaceful route through downtown.
In West Los Angeles, a group of anti-war protesters chanted and some banged drums as the crowd grew slowly at the federal building.
At one point, officers began hitting protesters with clubs after the group, estimated by police at about 300 people, left the sidewalk and spilled into the street, said LAPD spokesman Jason Lee.
The confrontation subsided quickly, but protesters remained seated in the street.
Arlette Chew of Glendale said she works for a defense contractor and had been supportive of the Bush administration until the last few days.
“I didn’t have any trouble with Bush’s decision making until he decided to ignore the U.N.,” she said. “What he’s doing is totally unprecedented and uncivilized.”
Several blocks away, about a dozen British citizens demonstrated in front of the British Consulate in Los Angeles. The group presented a letter declaring they want to dissociate themselves from the British government’s “shortsighted and ill-conceived” policy in the Iraq crisis.
Around the country, antiwar protests drew noisy chants and quiet prayers Wednesday. Demonstrators were arrested after sitting down on the street in front of the White House and blocking entrances to government buildings in other cities.
“This is the last plea to avoid war,” said John Passacantando, executive director of the environmental group Greenpeace, which joined a protest of 200 people in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. Protests also took place in New York, Boston, Detroit and other cities.
About 50 yards away from the main protest in Washington, some 100 members of Pax Christi USA, a Catholic peace group, formed a circle and prayed for peace. Many carried color photos of Iraqi women and children.
“This war would have started two months ago if it were not for our actions,” said Judith Kelly, 57, of Arlington, Va. “Our prayers, our vigils, our actions, they all count.”
Several protesters, covered in fake blood and bandages and carrying dolls representing dead babies, visited the offices of congressional leaders. “Blood is on their hands,” said one demonstrator, Constance Pohl, 63, of Baltimore.
In the evening, around 200 demonstrators, some wearing red dye on their faces and clothes to represent anticipated Iraqi civilian casualties, blocked rush hour traffic as they marched from a park near the White House to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s house in Northwest Washington. One person was arrested. “War is reprehensible,” said one protester, Ryan Gardiner, 31, of Falls Church, Va.
Outside Rumsfeld’s house, the crowd pleaded “Show your Face,” and held bloodstained baby-size coffins in the air while chanting, “You have blood on your hands.”
“This is absurd. The president and his staff are war mongers and leading the United States in a terrible direction,” said John Parrish, 44, of Silver Spring, Md.
Following the prayer vigil, 27 protesters were arrested after climbing over a temporary metal fence separating the park from Pennsylvania Avenue. A White House staff photographer took pictures of demonstrators as they were cuffed.
In New York City, protests in downtown Manhattan drew about 300 people.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Brian Seals atbseals (at) santa-cruz.com.Contact Donna Jones atdjones (at) santa-cruz.com

 
 


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