Peace activists plan sit-ins to protest US role in Central America

If the United States significantly increases its military involvement in Nicaragua or El Salvador, Roger Sundy, a soft-spoken state-employed bridge designer who lives in this Atlanta suburb, is prepared to go to jail in protest.

Mr. Sundy, a deacon of the Oakhurst Baptist Church here, has never been in jail before. And he did not engage in protests against the US presence in Vietnam.

But he and more than 10,000 other Americans across the nation have signed pledge cards to engage in legal protests as well as civil-disobedience sit-ins at local officies of members of Congress and at other federal buildings if the US escalates its military activities in Central America.

''I believe some response needs to be made to the government's current policies, which are basically militarizing several countries in Central America, '' Sundy explains. ''I come to this (with) concern as a Christian,'' he says quietly.

A nationwide drive to sign up resisters is being led by more than a dozen organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the Atlanta-based civil rights group once led by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and various religious groups including Sojourners, a Washington-based religious community, which publishes a magazine by the same name.

Such protests are being planned with the hope that they will ''forestall further direct military escalation in Central America,'' says Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine and one of the national leaders of the protest campaign.

Within the past few weeks, church and peace groups in many states have signed up people at gatherings in churches and at public meetings. Some 2,000 signed up in San Francisco and 1,300 in Boston over one weekend, say organizers.

Although several of the organizations sponsoring the resistance pledge sign-up are leftist groups trying to represent the point of view of guerrillas in El Salvador or Guatemala, most are mainstream church groups, according to the organizers.

John Collins, co-director of Clergy and Laity Concerned, formed 20 years ago to protest the US involvement in Vietnam, says some of the planned protests against US policy in Central America will be similar to recent ones at the South African Embassy in Washington.

Meanwhile, small groups of Americans are continuing to go to border conflict zones in Nicaragua to hold peaceful, public vigils protesting the violence. They are sent by Witness for Peace, which was founded in December 1983. More than 700 people have gone there so far, says Mr. Collins, one of the founders of Witness for Peace. At least a dozen are there at any one time for two weeks each, Collins explains. They go directly to battle zones and live and work and worship with the people, he says.

Witness for Peace organizers claim there has been less fighting in areas where their volunteers have been serving on a regular basis.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.