Profile of an antinuclear protest
''We are gentle, angry people/ singing, singing for our lives.'' These words, lifted in song from the voices of thousands of people, float across the Boston Common at an afternoon rally protesting the planned December deployment of 572 cruise and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe.Skip to next paragraph
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A dozen speakers stir the predominantly white, 5,000-strong crowd of down-vested students, professionals, grandparents, and small children into rounds of applause or chants of ''give peace a chance.''
At dawn the next day, in a cold, stinging rain, hundreds of the same ''gentle , angry people'' stage a civil-disobedience action at AVCO Systems Division, a manufacturer of components for cruise, Pershing II, and other missiles in Wilmington, Mass.
The demonstrators, including singing Buddhist monks in saffron slickers, carry ''Stop the Euromissile'' placards and parade in peaceful protest against AVCO's missile-related production. Many are dragged off AVCO property by not-so-gentle, riot-helmeted local police from the Northeast Regional Tactical Unit. Police dogs bark and whine as they strain at the leashes.
The Boston rally and civil-disobedience action were just two of some 150 related actions staged across the United States and Canada during the Oct. 21-24 weekend, in sympathy with the some 1.5 million demonstrators in Europe's continuing ''hot autumn'' of antinuclear protest.
Although the North American and European peace movements share similar tactics and a common aim of halting ''Euromissile'' deployment, the organization of the protest has been markedly different on this side of the Atlantic. Bruce Cronin, disarmament coordinator for Mobilization for Survival, notes that the weekend activities in the US were scattered from coast to coast rather than concentrated in large cities where sheer numbers had a visual impact.
Acting on an international call from the European peace movement last fall, eight national peace organizations in the US, including Mobilization for Survival, the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, and the American Friends Service Committee, put out a national call to coordinate actions during the October weekend.
Mr. Cronin says the national groups decided to ''decentralize the actions, to put together a series of local grass-roots actions instead of one large action or regional actions.'' (Although in retrospect, Cronin says he thinks ''it would have been better to have a dozen major actions around the country, on the scale of the New England regional action, since there was not as much national impact'' as organizers had hoped.)
''We left everything up to local groups to decide,'' Cronin continues. ''Except that we came up with guidelines and services for local groups such as a poster, a special button, putting together a speaker list, and arranging the media work.'' The major thing, Cronin says, was the establishment of a clearinghouse for information about the actions and their results.
The New England campaign to block the Euromissiles began four months before the weekend of actions, explains Brian Fitzgerald of Greenpeace New England, with ''a lot of paper, and a lot of phone calls - billions and billions of phone calls.''
By October, Mr. Fitzgerald says, the New England Campaign Against the Euromissiles comprised some 70 Boston and New England peace groups. The coalition included such groups as Artists for Survival, Boston Women's Pentagon Action, Nashua Committee to Halt the Arms Race, People Against Annihilation, and Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety, among others.