On Sept. 21, approximately 400 people gathered on Cota Street in downtown Santa Barbara to march in opposition of the proposed military action against Iraq. Since that first protest – which has become a weekly occurrence in Santa Barbara- the numbers have grown. One thousand people turned out on Sept. 28 and on Oct. 6, almost 2,000 people showed up. And that’s just in Santa Barbara.
Oct. 6 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S.’s bombing of Afghanistan, the official first step in the Bush administration’s “War On Terror.” On that date this year, people from all over the world – Cambodia to England, the U.S. to Japan – took a stand. Many of these protests were held by “Not in Our Name,” an organization founded in March and committed to resisting “the Bush administration’s endless war, detentions and roundups, and attacks on civil liberties.” Since then, chapters have sprung up all over the globe, and prominent musicians, artists and intellectuals – including Mos Def, Susan Sarandon, Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky and Eve Ensler – have signed on.
NION organizers estimated that 10,000 citizens gathered at the Oct. 6 protests in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, respectively. About 25,000 came together in New York under the NION project, and thousands of others gathered everywhere from Chicago to Tennessee to Oklahoma.
“On October the 6, tens of thousands of people spoke, they spoke in millions,” L.A. NION organizer Joey Johnson said. “People know they are being sold a bill of lies. … There is a war on the world.”
Johnson said L.A. participants – who ranged in age, race and religion – traveled from as far as Phoenix, San Diego and Santa Barbara. Almost a dozen universities and colleges in southern California also participated; UCSB brought a busload of supporters and UCLA had their own march to the NION event.
“Our estimate was 10,000 people; … that’s an enormous outpouring. From our standpoint we think it’s a tremendous success,” Johnson said. “It’s the largest anti-war demonstration since the Gulf War. … In our experience with organizing for demonstrations, it’s not just about numbers, it’s about the diversity of people out there.”
In Santa Barbara, the movement began in late September, when individuals – including UCSB English graduate student Ted Coe – began an e-mail campaign to get people out to Veracruz Park to protest. Coe said watching the peace movement gain momentum in Santa Barbara has been a rewarding experience.
“It’s been very inspiring,” he said. “When we first started talking about calling something, I didn’t know what to expect. The first march was called with just e-mails and a few hundred people showed up – it makes you have faith it’s worth fighting.”
The participants on the South Coast have also been extremely diverse, Coe said, from young parents to students to senior citizens.
“What has been really encouraging is the range in age amongst the people who show up,” he said. “I think we wanna see more happening on campus … There’s a lot to build on here, but there’s a lot of work to get done. This is going to continue to affect undergraduates.”
Is Anyone Listening?
What many involved in the peace movement are now asking is, “Why the lack of publicity and response?”
In the same story where they reported on the NION protests last Sunday, The Associated Press also said that the anti-war activists are “struggling to generate fervor for peace.”
Polls have reportedly shown that a slight majority of Americans support sending ground troops to Iraq, but have also shown that a majority opposes unilateral action without allied help.
“Polls can be skewed … I think the number of people who take the time to call and write is a much more accurate indicator,” said KCSB advisor Elizabeth Robinson, who has been active in the Santa Barbara marches.
And the number of people speaking out, especially in California, has been tremendous.
“We’re getting a lot of phone calls, as many as 25,000,” Senator Dianne Feinstein’s spokesman, Scott Gerber, said. “The vast majority is opposed to unilateral action. There’s also been a significant number of letters, about 2,000. Clearly people who oppose the war are more vocal about their position. … There’s significant opposition out there.”
Senator Barbara Boxer’s office has also been flooded with calls.
“We have had some amazing response. In fact, we’ve had, in the last three weeks, over 22,000 phone calls. The calls run 99-1 against unilateral action,” Boxer spokesman David Sandrely said.
So why are members of the House, who are voting today, and the Senate, who will vote next week, expected to pass Bush’s resolution?
“There are a lot of things that go into the decision making process,” Sandrely said. “[Boxer] is on the Foreign Relations Committee, she has heard from former Secretaries of State, she’s had security briefings from the CIA and military officials. Obviously she has been briefed on all the issues involved and has been meeting with constituents. All the things go to the heart of the decision-making process. Then, like most people, she considers issues of war and peace. The Senator lets her conscious guide her as well.”
Sandrely said Boxer would probably vote against the U.S. interceding in Iraq without international support.
“Senator Boxer is going to make a point on the floor and … most likely she’s going to vote against unilateral force. We need to address the threat that Saddam poses … [but] Senator Boxer feels to move forward with a blank check is not something she can support, and she will vote her conscience,” he said.
Gerber said while Feinstein “considers” her constituents’ comments, they are only one of many factors she will use when making her final decision.
“It’s just one more piece in the puzzle, something she considers,” he said. “She considers a lot of information. I think she’s aware of what her constituents are saying.”
Robinson said Representative Lois Capps – who was unavailable for comment – has been responsive to her constituents concerns. Capps’ office has been one of the Santa Barbara marchers’ destinations every Saturday.
“Hats off to her for going out on a limb. I think it’s pretty tragic if elected representatives ignore [their constituents],” Robinson said. “They’re supposed to be representatives, not their own agent.”
Motives for Protest
“The NION project is about stopping what we believe is a terrible onslaught without precedent against the people of the world by our government here in the United States,” Johnson said. “They declared war on the world – Cheney says six countries are essentially targets; Bush says the war will last more than a decade. It’s not about Iraq; it’s about waging war on the world; it’s about exploiting the grief from Sept. 11, 2001.”
Johnson, who has been an activist for years, said the NION pledge of resistance – which calls for resistance against the “injustices done by our government, in our name” – was what drew him to the project.
“I think [it's] so colorful in terms of content and timeliness. Bush says you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists. We reject that,” he said. “We’re standing with the people of the world. The statement is powerful because it says we oppose what you’re doing, we resist and we’re going to stop it.”
Coe cited his own altruism and concern for the future of international politics.
“I find this alarming on many levels. They’re writing a blank check to an unelected regime. I think it really doesn’t bode well for future foreign policy. I also share the concern with many people that this could spread to a larger conflict – if Israel is drawn into it, for example.”
“The timing is really clearly political,” Coe said. “Our stance toward Iraq has already led to the death of thousands of people. It’s not like we’re starting a new war – we’re just escalating it to a new level. I’m concerned about the effect on Iraqi citizens and on Americans.”
Robinson said the goal of the Santa Barbara marches is to stop military action against Iraq by the U.S., especially unilateral action.
“Do I want to be bombed by Saddam Hussein? No. But I don’t think that is the issue. There are two or three things I’ve been hearing [from people who oppose action],” she said. “First, there’s no demonstration of evidence for such an action. That’s baseline. Then people say it’s being done to distract attention from Enron, and the state of the economy … and somehow for Bush to avenge his father [George Bush Sr., who Hussein attempted to assassinate in 1993. Other statistics have come out from the administration that they will prevent any nation from challenging the U.S. militarily – and that’s imperialism.”
“This isn’t gonna end in Iraq,” Coe said. “It’s really important to open up more of a dialogue on campus, get more students dealing with this, educating themselves.”