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Local protests lose some steam as war progresses

Local protests lose some steam as war progresses


March 23, 2003
Sentinel Staff Writer

Four days into the American-led invasion of Iraq, Santa Cruz residents, branded as pacifists and known for their activism, have remained relatively silent on the matter of war.
While thousands of peace protesters joined the ritual Town Clock gatherings in weeks preceding “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” fewer have emerged since President Bush delivered his chilling call to war Wednesday night on national television.
“I’d call the reaction in Santa Cruz mild,” said Santa Cruz police Sgt. Steve Clark, who remembers the violence and destruction of property that characterized local protests during the 1991 Gulf War. Recent demonstrations, he said, have hardly tested the resources police have ready.
But don’t confuse the calm with consent, many residents caution.
In a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1, and Bush captured only 27 percent of the vote in the 2000 election, there are clear explanations why more opposition to the war has not surfaced, says Daniel Wirls, professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz.
One explanation, Wirls says, is that people have given in to the fact of war, and now are bracing themselves for the future.
“They’re expressing sympathy with the protesters but they’re saying ‘I have to get on with my life,’ “ he said.
Downtown restaurant owner Lou Caviglia, who remembers protesting the Vietnam War as a college student in Santa Clara and now invites political discussion with his patrons at Clouds, agrees residents are moving on.
“There’s an underlying feeling that if this is going to happen, let’s do it and get it over with,” he said.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, whose district includes Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley, said her criticism of U.S. military action was commuted to support for American troops when the war began. She encouraged others to be supportive too.
“We must stand next to our young people,” she told a crowd in Scotts Valley at a town hall meeting Saturday.
Notwithstanding, many Santa Cruz residents continue to demonstrate against the American invasion.
The largest protest since the onset of war took place Thursday evening when roughly 400 antiwar demonstrators marched through downtown Santa Cruz.
A peace rally in Watsonville the same day drew about 50 supporters, while a rally on the UC Santa Cruz campus attracted about 75 students.
A day earlier, roughly 200 high school students walked out of classes at Santa Cruz High in protest of the day-old American attack. About 60 students left class at Harbor High for the same reason.
More civil disobedience came Friday when 13 demonstrators were arrested after blocking the entrance to military recruiting offices in Capitola.
To the north, record-breaking number of arrests were made in San Francisco, around 2,000 last week, culminating in a peace rally Saturday with tens of thousands in attendance (See story, Page A6).
This weekend in Santa Cruz, small groups of protesters continued to come and go from the Town Clock.
Hiranya Brewer, a volunteer at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, called the local turnout against war “significant.”
The center announced Wednesday that it would remain open 24 hours a day to address concerns of community members. The center, though, has since resumed a closing time of 7 p.m., Brewer said.
Peace activist and UCSC professor Barbara Epstein expressed frustration with the lack of success demonstrators have had.
“Part of what is so scary is that we appear to have no impact on the Bush administration,” Epstein said.
She stopped short of saying frustration had caused any demonstrators to retreat from their position.
“But it does raise questions about democracy,” Epstein noted.
Some would disagree.
Santa Cruz resident Tim Morgan, head of the state Republican National Committee, said Saddam Hussein is a clear “threat” to democracy. and a regime change is necessary to protect Western freedoms.
“Sometimes the heavy lifting has to be done by the people capable of picking up that weight,” he said.
Nationwide polls conducted this weekend showed most Americans agree with Morgan. Nearly two-thirds, a number that rose with the American invasion, said they support the president’s decision to go to war.
Few would agree this is the case in Santa Cruz. Some, though, may have recently jumped on the bandwagon in support of war.
“For those who were ambivalent, the start of war might have allowed them to say let’s do it,” suggested professor Wirls.
Santa Cruz businessman Steve Elb, who said he has always opposed the use of military force, notes that now he is “somewhere in the middle.”
“Nobody would argue that Saddam Hussein isn’t a bad guy,” he said.
The more liberal residents who spoke out against the war just weeks ago will not be tempted to ally with the administration, Wirls said, but they may become softer in their opposition.
“Some people think going out in the streets right now won’t be as consequential,” he said.
The start of the war may also have driven some residents into relative solitude, suggested Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly.
“People are traumatized. Some just want to be alone,” she said. Others, though, have sought solace in the company of protesters, she added.
Stronger opposition to war may still come.
“Protesters need time to plan,” Wirls said, and garner support. They didn’t have time to do that when the war broke out in midweek, he said.
Others say they’re waiting to see what happens before they take their case to the streets.
Contact Kurtis Alexander at kalexaner (at)


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