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Protesting War with Iraq

November 25, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Last week some 350 people gathered in downtown Chicago for a peace rally. Most were high school and college students, like 20-year- old Gimena Gordilla, who is passionately opposed to war with Iraq.

GIMENA GORDILLA, College Student: I’m against the war, because I don’t believe that all possible non-military measures have been exhausted. I feel like Bush won’t take yes as an answer from the inspectors, and he won’t take no to war as an answer.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: While polls show that a majority of Americans do support the President, anti-war sentiment has been growing around the country. Tens of thousands turned out for anti-war demonstrations last month in cities like Washington, San Francisco and Seattle. [Demonstration]

While the rally behind me in Chicago is the most visible sign of the new anti-war movement, there’s also a lot going on in smaller venues: Teach-ins at universities and high schools, strategy sessions, and educational meetings in churches, community centers, and homes across the country.

In this home in an impoverished Chicago neighborhood, a group organized by the community organization Acorn met to decide whether opposition to war in Iraq should be on their agenda.

DENISE DIXON, Community Activist: As a community organization, I know we work on different things. Does this seem like an issue that we need to be putting our fingers in? I mean, because these are our children that they’re talking about sending over there and shedding their blood, and these are our dollars that they’re taking out of our community, and our programs are going to be cut. So is this something as a community organization we should be doing?

CURTIS FOULKS, Community Activist: It’s something every community organization should be doing, because it not only affects our children now, but it affects the way they perceive the world as it is, the way that they relate to, you know, the international scene, the way that they relate to each other.

If I don’t like what you’re doing, if I don’t like because you’re a leader, then what I do is go to your country and kill you. What does that say to the average person on the street or our children? You know, if I don’t like what you’re doing, I’m going to go out here and kill you.

What do you think these gangs are doing — the same thing; where do you think they learned it from? They learned it from the war mongers that are in this country, that lead this country. If we don’t like what somebody’s doing, we’re going to go over and kill them.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Across town in an affluent suburb, these high school students at Loyola Academy were asking questions about Saddam Hussein and the possibility of war.

STUDENT: I’m curious, what should we do if just — I mean, he does this all the time, he refuses to disarm, and he kicks the inspectors out? I mean, I don’t want a war either, because, I mean, that’s just going to set off all sorts of things; it’s going to be god awful. But I think we need to have some way of sort of, if you will, forcing him to actually disarm, because, I mean, he has proven that he will use these weapons on anyone.

JEFF GUNTZEL, Voices in the Wilderness: We know Saddam Hussein has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, against his neighbors, so I’m not here to deny any of those facts. I think Saddam Hussein’s behavior is unacceptable; it’s an understatement. I also think that our own government’s response is unacceptable. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jeff Guntzel has talked to thousands of students and adults, and has made eight trips to Iraq as part of his role as an organizer with Voices in the Wilderness, a group first formed to oppose sanctions against Iraq, sanctions they say hurt innocent civilians and not Saddam Hussein. Voices now focuses on opposing a war as well.

JEFF GUNTZEL: I find an overwhelming amount of people coming out who in the past were not active, who were not coming to talks, who are coming to listen to this message and just try to come to some sort of conclusion, hopefully other than what the Bush administration is telling them to come to, based on facts, based on real reflection.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Even in Chicago’s nasty weather, small demonstrations are being held almost every day, while behind the scenes, organizations are getting together to plan large anti-war events to be held during the upcoming holiday season.

Leaders of faith-based organizations talked strategy and logistics in the offices of the American Friends Service Committee.

MICHAEL McCONNELL, American Friends Services Committee: We need to begin brainstorming some of the elements of the 15th. I think we wanted an interfaith service. We did not want a lot of speaking, but we definitely wanted to say this is an event against the war.

RICK PETERSON, United Church of Christ: Part of what I was thinking is that we’d start by going north and going by water tower and then going down Michigan Avenue and ending at the river, but if that’s too long, especially on December 15, maybe we need to consider shortening the route.

KEVIN McDERMOTT, Oak Park Coalition for Truth & Justice: I think the visibility of going down the major shopping area in Chicago, the Magnificent Mile… I mean, it’s called the Magnificent Mile. To do a mile procession along the Magnificent Mile, the symbolism of that just seems to me to be so strong, and then going down to the river to lay down our arms. I would hate to give that up. I just think that’s so powerful.

CALVIN MORRIS, Community Renewal Society: Of course, when we get to the river, we’ll going to sing, "I’m going to lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside." So I mean, I think there are a lot of things both in the singing and in the kind of call and response that we can do.

DEMONSTRATORS: One, two, three four, Tricky Dick, stop the war!

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Although some of the chants from the protests against the war in Vietnam may echo today…

DEMONSTRATORS: One, two, three, four, we don’t want your endless war!

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: …And although some of the protesters may be the same, Vietnam-era organizers say there is a difference in how a movement is organized today. The Internet and e-mail have made it much easier to build organizations quickly and turn out crowds, says public relations executive Marilyn Katz. She relied on some of her old contacts she met organizing anti-war demonstrations for Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s, when she put together a new organization this fall: Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq.

MARILYN KATZ, Chicagoans Against the War in Iraq: What really prompted my re-involvement was the sense that the Bush administration was going to rush to war with Iraq, and that there didn’t seem to be a clear oppositional force. It was a month and a half before the election. And I could see the Democratic Party kind of reading the polls and figuring out where to position themselves. It seemed to me that it was critical that we open up a space for dissent.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Using new e-mail lists plus old contacts the new group quickly gathered 300 names, raised $20,000 and placed this anti-war ad in the "Chicago Tribune." Katz sensed a different attitude from the young people she worked with.

MARILYN KATZ: They are less angry I think in some ways than we were, and partly it is because some people are listening. To me what happened in the ’60s is really that nobody would listen, and you felt that you were speaking to blank wall. And it created great rage by ’69/70.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Anti-war protesters say the response they get from the public is also very different from the Vietnam era, when rocks and cans were often thrown at demonstrators.

KEVIN McDERMOTT: It’s been great. As you can hear, we get honks all the time we’re out here for the entire time — you can hear — we get honk after honk. And occasionally we’ll get someone who will be opposed to our position. But we’re getting probably 99-1 in favor of what we’re saying here. So that’s really very gratifying.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Methodist bishop Joseph Sprague, who also protested the Vietnam War, sees other differences this time. For one thing, the protests have started even before a war has begun.

BISHOP C. JOSEPH SPRAGUE, United Methodist Church: In some ways we’re more advanced this time, in that Vietnam incrementally evolved as a war, and so did the opposition, whereas now, the administration has been very clear about what it intends, if indeed world opinion is there. And hence, there has been a clarion call, if one is opposed to it or if a group is opposed to it, to be so and to do so.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Many of those opposing a war with Iraq were not part of any earlier peace movements. University of Chicago political science professor John Mearsheimer graduated from West Point at the height of the Vietnam War. He never served in Vietnam, but he did not oppose the war. He supported the Bush administration in the war in Afghanistan, but sees war in Iraq is not necessary.

JOHN MEARSHEIMER, University of Chicago: The first reason is that we can contain Saddam Hussein, we can contain Saddam Hussein even if he has nuclear weapons. Second reason is that I think a war against Iraq would be very detrimental for the war on terrorism.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Mearsheimer organized a group of fellow academics, who sponsored this anti-war ad in the New York Times.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So these were not, say, the usual suspects in terms of being an anti-war constituency?

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Not at all. You are talking about academics who are relatively senior. Everyone has tenure on that list of 33, and everyone is deeply appreciative of the fact that it is sometimes necessary to go to war for the national interest. But all of the people who signed the ad felt that in the case of Iraq, it’s not in their national interest to fight at this point in time.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Mearsheimer thinks the growing anti-war movement seems to have had an impact on Bush administration policy in Iraq.

JOHN MEARSHEIMER: I think that two things have happened to the Bush administration over the past few months. One is, I think they’ve become more aware of the down-side risks of attacking Iraq. And secondly, I think they are aware that there is a lot of opposition in this country to a war against Iraq. And as a result, the Bush administration appears to be willing to let the U.N. inspections regime work, and then maybe declare victory and avoid a war.

ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But these protesters fear that war with Iraq is inevitable, and that fear, they say, will continue to fuel their protest.