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Springing to Action (Antiwar Santa Cruz)

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Springing to Action

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As the bombs began to fall, Santa Cruz County anti-war activists pumped up nonviolent protests

by Laurel Chesky
03/27/03

Last Thursday morning, the world didn’t stop. People got up to go to work, ready the kids for school, and take care of the day’s business. Many were glued to the TV or radio watching and listening to the beginning of a war unfold. Thoughts and prayers reached out to Iraqi civilians and American soldiers.
For local anti-war activists, Thursday, the day after President Bush announced that the U.S. was at war, marked the time to step up protest efforts. In the days that followed, local contingents engaged in demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience locally and in San Francisco, while others headed down the coast to Vandenberg Air Force Base, situated 55 miles north of Santa Barbara. And at least one local man remained in a Baghdad hotel to demonstrate solidarity with the Iraqi people.
On Thursday, the homey Broadway offices of the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, the unofficial hub of local anti-war efforts, buzzed with activity. Visitors dropped by the center’s bookstore to pick up reading material or find out how they could get involved in protests. Upstairs, center staffer Sharon Delgado taught a three-hour crash course on nonviolent resistance, and groups held emergency meetings to plan direct action.
Meanwhile, a group of 22 protestors (19 adults, three children) gathered outside military recruiting offices housed in an office building on 41st Avenue in Capitola, sporting signs bearing messages such as “Support out troops, don’t let them die 4 oil” and “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence. - MLK.”
Demonstrator Robin Gaura’s mood was grave. “They’ve (the U.S. government) declared an endless war on the environment, on innocent civilians abroad, and on civil liberties of citizens here,” she says. “We’re at a very, very dangerous turning point in world history. There are children burning as we speak. As an American, I’m obligated to speak out.”

Ben Sanders, an activist from Ohio who has been taking part in a 24-hour vigil in downtown Santa Cruz, stood outside the Marines recruiting office, handing flyers to potential recruits as they exited the office. “I just want to change one mind today,” he says.
Thursday evening at 5 p.m., about 400 protestors gathered at the Town Clock in Santa Cruz and slowly marched through downtown to the county building, where an anti-war rally was held, and small “affinity groups” were formed to take nonviolent action in San Francisco the next day.
Friday morning, the group gathering in front of military recruiting offices swelled to about 100, according to police estimates. Capitola cops and county sheriffs, dressed in riot gear, met the protestors, who planned on engaging in nonviolent resistance. After refusing to leave the office building, police arrested 13 protestors, who were cited for trespassing and released. Capitola Sergeant Todd Mayer, who says protestors forewarned the police of their planned resistance, says the arrests went off peacefully, and protestors “deported themselves like ladies and gentlemen.”
On Friday afternoon, area high school students staged their own protest. At 4 p.m., about 100 students from Soquel, Santa Cruz, Harbor, Aptos and San Lorenzo Valley high schools gathered around the Clock Tower in Santa Cruz. They held signs reading, “We need books, not bombs” and “We love you, don’t go to war,” and chanted “This is what democracy looks like!” in a syncopated, hip-hop rhythm.
For many of the students, it was their first protest, but they spoke eloquently about the war. “I’m just trying to send a message that I believe what the U.S. is doing is wrong,” says Evan Walker, 14, a freshman at Soquel High. “We need U.N. approval. We’re breaking our own laws.”
Silvia Romero, 17, a junior at Soquel High, helped organize the protest. She donned a hand-painted T-shirt declaring, “War breeds hatred breeds terrorism.” “I support our soldiers, but I think we need to bring them back,” she says. “I think we went way too quickly into war. … We’re not protecting from terrorism, we’re causing terrorism.”
Also on Friday, a band of about 16 local activists converged with other groups at Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, between Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara. Vandenberg is part of the Air Force Space Command, which operates the nation’s “space war-fighting forces,” including ICBM missiles and satellite communications, reconnaissance and weapons guidance systems.
Military officials had previously warned that protestors illegally entering the 98,600-acre, largely undeveloped base would risk taking a bullet. But protestors managed to elude military personnel, slipping undetected through the base’s brush-blanketed hills. Teams of protestors hung anti-war banners on fencing, a water tower, radar domes and satellite command centers in hopes of displaying their messages and disrupting base operations. At least three protestors were arrested outside the base, but the military refrained from using violence against protestors.

“Entering the area, I think everybody had a certain level of fear,” says Davenport resident Amy Courtney, who infiltrated the base to hang signs. But, she says, the actions only go to illustrate the lengths protestors are willing to stride“a leap into the unknown of what the repercussions might be for registering dissent,” she says. “Historically, protests in America have been pretty well choreographed with the authorities. I think that this is a little bit of a breakaway from that.”
The fact that activists left Vandenberg unscathed, Courtney says, broke through some activists’ fear of the consequences of publicly registering dissent. “Some people thought you take two steps onto the base and you get your head blown off,” she says, “and we’ve definitely shown that that’s not the case.”
Meanwhile, Boulder Creek resident Wade Hudson has taken his anti-war message all the way to the war zone. The 58-year-old activist is a member of the organization Voices in the Wilderness, a group formed in 1996 to end economic sanctions against Iraq. Hudson has been living in a Baghdad hotel for two weeks. After the war began, Hudson toured bombed-out sites and hospitals, where civilians, many of them children, are being treated for war-related injuries.
Attempts to contact Hudson by phone were unsuccessful. But in a March 21 e-mailed journal entry, Hudson describes the scene in Baghdad:
“Shortly after 8 p.m., the explosions begin and continue off and on rather frequently for two hours or so. … Over the course of these two hours in addition to the audio, we feel the physical effects of maybe 40 or 50 powerful explosions that either rock the building or send blasts of air through the building. It’s similar to being in one major San Francisco earthquake after another, except that we know that for many people elsewhere in Baghdad, it is worse than that.
“One of the hotel staff joins me and angrily comments, ‘Why is the United States doing this? I can only respond, ‘I don’t know,’ which is the truth.”

 
 


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