Antiwar America

Antiwar America

From across the country, friends share stories of protest.


If the February 15 peace demonstrations proved that there truly is strength in numbers, the stories below go to show the power of one–or two, ten or a hundred. To offer a close-up look at some of the more localized and innovative forms of antiwar activity across the United States, The Nation asked members of its Associates program to share stories of protest from their hometowns. From almost 250 responses–from Arkansas to Arizona, Montana to Maine–here are some highlights.  –The Editors

Ellen Hansen

, 49, Emporia, KS
Assistant professor of geography, Emporia State University

It started out in response to September 11, in the immediate aftermath to how militaristic the response was. A group of us got together, and that’s when we started reading information in our square in front of the student union–every afternoon reading about civil liberties and other issues.

When that toned down, we started our demonstrations on the corner off-campus holding No Blood for Oil and No to War signs. It’s a small group, ten to fifteen people. The city is a little less than 30,000, and everybody in the group is from campus. There have been times when there were three of us out there. We get a couple of students who hold a sign that says Honk for Peace, and we get a lot of people honking and flashing peace signs. We get a lot of nasty things, too. People yell at us and flip us off. It was a little scary to take ourselves off-campus in this town. The faculty and students are more progressive than the town is. But we’ve been getting support from people going by, so maybe it’s less conservative than I thought it was.

John Killeen

, 24, Chestertown, MD
Student, Washington College

On February 27 the International Studies Council (ISC), a student organization, hosted a Security Council simulation in which we debated the US/UK/Spain resolution. The event was advertised to the campus as an opportunity to understand what the ISC is and how it is dedicated to peaceful resolution of international conflicts through the work of the United Nations. We had representatives for each member of the Security Council, and probably around twenty students came to observe and then debate with us afterward.

Also, the Lysistrata Project [one of many worldwide stagings on March 3] drew about fifty people together for performances of scenes from the play, and for poetry and songs. After the event, while we all munched on brownies, a campuswide walkout was organized for March 5 to protest the war.

Rosanne Potter

, 61, and Bill McCarthy, 60, Key West, FL
Retired professors of English, Iowa State University

On December 7 Key West had its annual Christmas parade, and we [Key West Peace Vigil] marched. There were fourteen people, a dog and a rooster. We were very well received. On January 18, the day of the international rally, we gathered on a prominent local intersection. There were 175 people, and again we were well received. We had a sign that said Honk If You Love Peace, and lots of people were honking.

We had the Southernmost Concert for Peace on February 15; 358 people signed up, but probably 500 attended. Some of our most committed activists are high school kids. They were standing in the streets before we were.

We got our City Council to vote for a resolution against first strike without UN support. We are brightening the corner where we are.

Joanie V. Connors

, PhD, 49, Fayetteville, AR
Assistant professor of educational foundations, University of Arkansas

We’ve had a peace center, the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, here for a couple of years in Fayetteville. When it started to look like the Bush Administration was going to declare war on Iraq we became more active. Now we have a weekly demonstration, held on Saturdays at noon near the Fayetteville mall, where the most hostile audience in town seems to be. People scream things like “Get a job, you commies” and “Bomb Iraq,” but we get positive responses too. On a really cold day we may have as few as fifteen people there, and on a really nice day we may have as many as thirty.

Eli Plenk

, 12, Cambridge, MA
Student, King Olson’s School

We have electives at school, and our group is actually part of a class. Some other kids are doing a newspaper, but one teacher offered political activity. We got to choose a topic, and so we decided to look at the pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

We’re doing an arts campaign, and we’re also sending a letter to President Bush that we finished about a week ago. We already have a little over 200 signatures. And we have a press release. And of course, there’s the City Council thing.

I was the only student from the group who went to the Cambridge City Council. Other people just couldn’t come. I talked about how many people in Iraq would die if we went to war and how it was wrong. Most wars really don’t need to happen, and Bush is really rushing into this. The resolution passed unanimously, so I think it went pretty well.

Gretchen Hull

, 56, Newcastle, ME
Part-time professor of oceanography, University of Maine at Augusta; writer

I live in a very small community–there are two towns that together have a population of about 6,000 people. There were a couple of us meeting back in October, and we decided we should do something. For the first few weeks there were just five of us meeting on the Wiscasset Bridge on Sundays at 5 o’clock, with candles. Then we moved the demonstrations to the middle of the day and more people came. There’s a real diversity in the group–students and retired people alike.

I stood on a big bridge near the Bath Iron Works alone for a couple of weeks. It was intimidating at first. But it was reassuring to know that there were people out there on other bridges. I thought about the people on the bridge ten miles down the road, and about the effect our presence was having on drivers. I thought maybe it would give some of them the confidence to come out and express their own views. We had 100 people on that bridge last week.

We demonstrate on bridges because whether you think of it as a verb or a noun, bridges are about making connections between people. On the Bath Bridge–and it’s quite a long bridge–there’s sign after sign after sign, and they carry the same message. Mine says Let’s Give Peace a Chance.

Mark Pasternak

, 48, Coos Bay, OR

The movement has been slowly building here, starting about six months ago. In Coos Bay people decided they would hold rallies; at first probably about ten people showed up. In Bandon two physician friends of mine, Ken and Janet Bates, helped organize an antiwar rally at the library a few weeks ago. About 150 people came. Our slogan was “Physicians and Nurses for Peace.” This is a small community. I think there are only five physicians, actually, and most of us were there.

My 17-year-old son and my wife have been coming to the rallies too. With permission from the North Bend High School, my son put up announcements for last Saturday’s rally three times. He says that within twenty minutes they were all taken down by students. It would be good to see far more young people out. I don’t think they see that the same people are behind this who were behind Vietnam.

Rachel Zinman

, 36, Brooklyn, NY
Senior teacher, Be Yoga studio in Manhattan

My husband and I met [author and prayer leader] James Twyman and joined his e-mail list. He wrote that he was going to be doing a major peace vigil on the 9th of February with a mix of Israelis and Palestinians. He wrote, “Rather than pushing for peace, we’re going to be peace. We’re going to bend the world toward peace.” He asked for everyone to gather, so I started, two months before, sending e-mails: “If you’d like to join me in spirit or physically, please do.”

On the day, I had invited a lot of people to be with me. I said, “At 12 noon, I’m going to lead this meditation.” There were forty-five of us there. A lot of people sat with us, and a lot of people joined us in spirit. They e-mailed me afterward and said, “We could feel it.”

I had felt ineffective. I had thought, “How can my voice be heard?” For me, to be able to share this is a way to take action. We were being grateful for the peace that already exists on this earth.

Cynthia McCulloh

, 42, Dillon, MT
Student, University of Great Falls

You ask yourself what you can do. For my mother and me it’s trying to get the information out there. The mainstream press isn’t doing it. If you watch ABC or CNN, like most people do, then you just don’t have all the information.

My mom and I placed an ad in the regional paper out of Butte, called the Montana Standard. We got information and quotes off the website from generals and CIA officials, people you would think of as hawks–Wesley Clark, Anthony Zinni, George Tenet, James Webb. We liked these quotes because they were from folks that the Administration would typically be listening to, but isn’t. The ad cost $350, and other people chipped in to help cover the cost.

My mom has also had political coffees, where she and her friends just talk about the war. It’s totally a new thing for her to invite friends for coffee and talk politics. That’s a form of activism that I like to see because it starts people thinking and looking for information, and it spreads.

Matt Leber

, 27, Nashville, TN
Activist and director, Nashville Peace and Justice Center

The movement started in Nashville in July. We started with a rally when Cheney came to town. About 100 people showed up. Since then, we have been building more and more momentum. In October we had the Music City March for Peace–it was the largest peace march in Nashville since the civil rights movement.

We have been holding rallies and teach-ins that allow people to have their voices heard. On February 15 we had a rally in solidarity with those around the world. And on the Monday after, the Faces of “Collateral Damage” peace camp began. Basically, five activists lived under simulated UN-sanction conditions [in Iraq] for five days. The goal was to raise public awareness around the lack of humanity of the sanctions and war to date. It’s about raising public consciousness, asking questions.

Susan Carlson

, 57, Rome, GA
Collection development coordinator, Rome-Floyd County Library

This is the Bible Belt; it’s a staunchly conservative, Bush-supporting area. Until now we have been going to Atlanta, sixty-five miles away, for demonstrations. We wanted to do something locally to show like-minded folks they’re not alone.

So I had an antiwar dinner party. I was so frustrated because it seemed like nothing was going on here, and I thought we needed to get organized. It was just another couple and my mother, who is very politically active at 80, and a psychologist, who showed up. We brainstormed about organizing. We all feel that we have to do something to get other people on the bandwagon. So we’re going to put an ad in the paper, and we’re going to have a rally here in March. We’ve already got a permit.

Former Nation interns Kathryn Lewis and Emily Biuso compiled this report.

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