As America and a small group of Western allies began bombing Afghanistan today, an executive order was apparently issued to stiffle the protests that were sure to come. In Westwood, Private security officer Harris told me at 11:45 AM that five minutes earlier he had been instructed by buiilding supervisor Leon Mann not to allow anyone to park in the Westwood Federal Building parking lot. When asked what the reason was, Harris told me, "Apparently they've started bombing Afghanistan."
Jim Lafferty, of the National Lawyers Guild, negotiated with federal agents, who informed him that
due to an executive order, all Federal buildings and property would be closed today to both protesters and picnickers. Lafferty was able to arrange an informal agreement which allowed protesters to spill over onto the gress, provided they stayed within the perimeter of cement posts, giving them roughly a yard-wde swatch of grass in addition to the sidewalk area. Though not unprecedented, Lafferty characterized the executive order as "extremely rare." But, he said, we have "bigger fish to fry today."
Due to confusion about the time when protests were called for, the demonstration grew slowly at first, with only a handful of people on hand around 12:45, when the arrangement was announced. However, within half an hour there were over 50 people on hand, and by 2 PM the number had grown to between 150 and 200 people, a figure that held through about 3 PM, when some began leaving for the 4 PM interfaith gathering at the USC Mosque.
There was considerable support from people passing by in cars and honking, a point picked up on by Blase Bonpane, director of the Office of the Americas: "I'm very happy to see the positive response of so many people with American flags on their cars, people glad to see us out here," he said. "I think that many people are stunned that we might bomb and kill innocent people, when we have all the mechanisms we need to punish the perpetrators of this heinous crime. We have the support of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, a new International Criminal Court, and support of the UN Secretary general. This is the proper way to go about securing justice, treating it as the serious international crime it really is."
On the other hand, he noted, "Attorney General Ashcroft recently said that war will increase terrorism in the United States. So this war started today will increase terrorism here at home. That means those pushing us into war are responsible for increasing terrorism. That's unacceptable."
Signs held by protesters conveyed a variety of messages, but a common theme ran through many of them: "War Won't Stop Terrorism," "Don't Turn Tragedy Into War," "War Is Not The Answer," "Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right," "War Makes More Terrorists," "No More Innocent Deaths," "Bush Stop Killing The Innocent," and "Declare Peace," just to cite a sample of those present. This common theme was emphasized by Theresa Bonpane, who said, "I think that we who are for peace must unite as never before, and send a clear message that we are opposed to any innocent victims dying. No more innocent victims."
When asked what he thought was most important, Don White. of CISPES, immediately focused on the devastating prospect of thousands more innocents dying: "The people of Afghanistan are on the verge of starvation; millions of refugees are facing a cold winter without food or homes. The President says this is not a war against the people of Afghanistan, but it is unimaginable that the attacks we've launched won't result in possibly thousands of innocent deaths among the Afghan people. Our protest today is a fervent plea and demand that not a single innocent life be lost in this widening violence that will probably result in a war of escalating violence around the world."
The protests continue.