A minority of Americans calls out - loudly - for peace

The country's long tradition of antiwar activism resurges after attacks on the Taliban.

Katharine Roberts was out campaigning for her candidate for mayor, when she heard about the US attacks against the Taliban and an antiwar rally in Times Square. She raced home, as best she could with her cane, got her peace button, and then joined several thousand others to protest the US military response.

"I'm a lifelong activist, and what's happening here is breaking my heart," she says. "We are becoming them, and that's the wrong thing to do."

Wrapped in a white shawl, with white hair and pink glasses, the retired business-systems consultant is part of a long tradition of antiwar activism in America - stretching back to the Quakers, who gave up control of Pennsylvania rather than fight in the French and Indian War for the British crown.

From "ban the bombers" to anti-Vietnam War activists, pacifists in America have never shied from going against the grain and paying a price for it. Now, the nascent movement - converging on Times Square and in cities across the country from Boston to San Francisco, and made up of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds - is no different.

As Ms. Roberts and other protesters marched toward the heart of Broadway, some onlookers booed, while others called them un-American and as well as some unprintable things. "I just let it roll off my back," Roberts says.

Fueling the movement

Historically, the Quakers' pacifism has had deep spiritual roots that still resonate on the protest lines. But in this century, a myriad of ideological and other religious impulses have fueled the antiwar movements.

That has led to dissent and a range of views within the community itself. For instance, Todd Gitlin, a former leader of the Students for Democratic Society and anti-Vietnam War protests, believes nations have a right to self-defense. Although he's not sure bombing Afghanistan is the right course, for now he's sitting out the protests.

On the other hand, radical historian Howard Zinn, professor emeritus at Boston University, headlined one of the first protests in Boston after President Bush declared war on terrorism. He's confident that there is no moral justification for bombing an impoverished country when the perpetrators are terrorists spread over 30 nations.

"Terrorism has much deeper roots, and they lie in American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East," he says. "This is something that Americans don't like to face or think about, but just because the enemy is evil, that doesn't mean we're good."

The variety in the movement is reflected in the Times Square marchers as well. Economist Laksham Parmal, his hand shaking as he carries a sign saying, "Islam, Arabs and Immigrants are not the enemy!" is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Gloria Bletter, an attorney and advocate of international human rights law, was passing out leaflets calling the US to take its case to the United Nations, where the perpetrators could be tried and punished according to international criminal law. Osage Bell was decked in a black sweatshirt proclaiming her membership in the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade.

"It's ideological, it's emotional," she says, explaining her reasons for protesting. "We want a better world for people."

Roberts, who walks cautiously through the crowd, doesn't have a religious or ideological base for her lifetime of activism. She says she just knows her own mind and maintains that violence only begets more suffering.

"Whether I'm right or wrong, I have these strong feelings, and I'm not going to give them up," she says.

Like many in the crowd, Roberts is proud to stand up for what she believes in, rather than for what the government would like her to.

To her, that's real democracy and patriotism. "The FBI has a long dossier on me, and I'd be ashamed if they didn't," she says, laughing as she merged into the crowd.

Wide-ranging concerns

But for others, there is a growing sense of unease. Beatrice Nava is clear that a dreadful act was committed against the people at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But as a mother of four who were draft age during Vietnam, she doesn't believe a military response is appropriate. She's also concerned about the "circumscription of rights" here at home.

"I fear it's going to become increasingly unacceptable to say what I think is very true, which is that the US has engendered hate and righteous indignation with its foreign policy," she says. "It doesn't justify an attack on innocent people, but explains why fanatics are able to gain support and can identify some of their pain coming from this most powerful and richest country in the world."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A minority of Americans calls out - loudly - for peace
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today