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2 Reports from O7 Anti-war Demo at Westwood

by Members of the IMC Collective Saturday, Oct. 13, 2001 at 1:09 AM

Two views of the October 7 anti-war demonstration at the Westwood Federal Building

errorReport #1
by Bronwyn Mauldin

Evelyn Stern was planning to work in her Brentwood garden on Sunday, but instead found herself at the Westwood Federal Building with more than 200 other Angelenos protesting against the American and British bombings of Afghanistan.

When she heard about it on the radio that morning, Stern immediately went to the Internet to learn more. Sure enough, she already had two e-mails about the bombing. One was from a Southern California peace coalition, notifying her about the demonstration. The other was from friends in France.

Isael Hermosillo, a junior at the University of Southern California, had been planning to meet friends in Echo Park that day to make signs in preparation for a demonstration against former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who would be speaking Tuesday at USC. When a friend called and woke him up to tell him about the bombing, he turned on the television.

The first thing he saw was a press conference with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Hermosillo, a 21 year-old majoring in history and Chinese, was bothered that the reporters were not questioning what Rumsfeld told them. They were like schoolchildren trying not to get in trouble with their teachers, he said.

He and his friends decided to put off their signmaking until later, and went down to the Westwood Federal Building.

They were there despite the fact that the parking lot was closed, the FBI banned anyone from standing on the lawn, and law enforcement really wanted to keep the demonstrators off the sidewalk entirely. They came despite the fact that they did not know what kind of a response theyd get from fellow Southern Californians driving by.

Stern, 63, was pleasantly surprised by the positive response on Sunday. She remembers participating in weekly Saturday demonstrations against the Vietnam War at the same federal building. They started out very small, and the public response was not positive in the beginning. By the end, though, they were huge and popular.

Whats different this time, she says, is the overwhelmingly positive response of people driving by today, the many people who honk and wave peace signs as they pass.

A semi-retired volunteer who reads to young people at her local library, Stern decided to come to the demonstration because its important to be visible, she said. To let people at home thinking that they are alone know that there are others who think as they do.

We learned during the Vietnam War that the more you were visible, the more people were willing to make themselves visible as well. And the movement grew.

In her khakis, white tennis shoes and a burgundy chamois shirt, Stern didnt visually fit the profile of trouble-making agitators so often presented by the mainstream press when they report on public demonstrations against the status quo. However, she did fit right into the crowd at Westwood, which was made up of a broad mix of ages, races, political persuasions, languages and dress codes. Alongside her stood women and men with long flowing hair and feathery, billowing, multi-colored garments, grandmas in wheelchairs, young and old in jeans or shorts and T-shirts supporting dozens of progressive causes from the past several years. Vieques, WTO, Free Trade Area of the Americas, October 22 Coalition.

Tall and speaking in a soft, polite voice, Hermosillo, a 21 year-old majoring in history and Chinese, explains that he came to Westwood because he believes that most Americans do not want to go to war. Most people want justice, he says, but I have no doubt in my mind that 90 percent of people dont want war.

He is equally convinced that as the peace movement grows, it will cause changes in public policy, as well as how the media covers the war. I wouldnt be here if I didnt believe it, he said.

Both Stern and Hermosillo want the U.S. government to make changes to foreign policy rather than going to war. Those changes include ending the bombing of Iraq, and finding a peaceful solution to the Palestinian crisis.

Hermosillo said he wants the U.S. stop training Israeli soldiers and giving them weapons to kill Palestinians. He adds that American foreign policies should not be profit-oriented, but should become humanitarian-oriented instead.

What happened on September 11 was horrible, Hermosillo says, but it did not happen out of the blue. There is a correlation between American foreign policy for many years, including policies pursued by Secretary of State Albright in the Clinton administration, and that days events.

He is also part of an effort to educate students in Southern California about those policies. On Saturday Hermosillo attended a meeting of representatives of nine different Southern California colleges and universities, where they created a new group called the Southern California Schools Against War (SC-SAW). They plan to work together to educate and organize students on campuses throughout the region.

The demonstration wound down at around 3 p.m., as most people left Westwood to attend an interfaith gathering at the USC Mosque.

Report #2
by Michael Balliro

I spent most of my Saturday at the IMC office and attending meetings later in the day and into the evening. For this reason I looked forward to a Sunday of peace and relaxation, a day to take care of myself and do the things I needed to get done for myself. I awoke early in the morning and tried to get my grocery shopping out of the way both to beat the rush at the market and to free up the rest of my day for more creative ventures. As I was returning from the market I had not yet heard that the US and UK had started bombing Afghanistan.

I was assembling my breakfast and had just turned on the radio. That was when I heard the bombing had begun. The phone rang a few minutes later. It was to ring a lot that morning, unusual for me that early on a Sunday morning. A friend was perpetuating an informal phone tree. As soon as I heard her voice I confirmed, Yes, I just heard on the radio. Someone else had called my friend earlier that morning from Orange County to initiate the phone tree. I tried to imagine the roots of this phone tree. How far into the earth did these things grow? Where was its beginning exactly?

Im not sure I could make it out to the Westwood Federal Building I told my friend. Westwood is the far other side of town and there is little public transport out that way. Besides, I had other things I wanted to do. Dont worry about how you are going to get there just yet. Let me make some more calls. And with that I went back to my breakfast.

The phone didnt stop ringing. Something big was sent into motion and it threatened to sweep me up into it despite my carefully unplanned day. I sat at the kitchen table listening to the war news on the radio and tried to figure out how I felt about this round of bombing against Americas newest enemy. From my perspective the US has been constantly engaged in a war of one sort or another since the day I was born. Often it was a low intensity war, like in Colombia at the moment, and often these are carried out just below public opinion radar. So how would todays bombing be any different except that it was overtly public?

Just then a minor earthquake rocked the apartment sharply enough to awaken my housemate who stumbled out of bed to ask what the heck was that? Just an earthquake I assured her, as if such statements could ever be reassuring to one who just moved to this part of the country and is unused to such phenomenon. A small one? she asked, hopefully. That depends on where the epicenter was, I cautioned her, having spent a lot of time teaching her about earthquake technology by way of assuaging her fears. She noted that I was listening to the radio and presumed I was up-to-date on such things. Well where do they say the epicenter was? Putting aside that it was far too soon for such reports to have filtered through the media; but also thinking that the radio reporting was so preoccupied this morning with reports of bombing raids, what types of missiles were used, their various targets, etc., that all other news would get drowned out, I answered my housemate with no sense of irony: Kabul, I think.

This is how the bombing came into focus for me. It had to be placed against a natural phenomenon in which people are presumed to feel helpless. But bombing is not a natural phenomenon, no matter how much the perpetrators like to imagine it is. It is a human action carried out to inhuman ends. It is willful. It is intentional. It requires our complicity to be carried out. Whether I could stop it or not was irrelevant. What I needed to do was show that I was not complicit.

Some of my IMC cohorts called to ask if I wanted to ride with them to Westwood. I agreed. Not knowing how long this event would last we each took measures to stockpile food and water, as if we were packing emergency provisions, natural and un-natural disasters being the theme of the day.

On the freeway toward Westwood we discussed how one might cover the event and in particular how we might uncover the truth of the event for those who could not make it. We each brought with us different expectations of the event and we knew these expectations would shade our interpretation. If one were to expect a huge crowd, for example, a small crowd would certainly disappoint. The actual event, relative to your expectations, would undoubtedly influence your writing on the event.

What did I expect? Well I didnt expect there would be a great many people, at least not as much as the week before when 2,500 gathered at Westwood, when our actions could be seen as preventative. Today was largely reactive and as a consequence not empowering. Whenever we begin bombing another country I am often overcome by helplessness. I for one didnt relish a whole afternoon of helplessness.

Then our discussion was brought to a halt by the car radio which was broadcasting the esteemed leaders address to the nation earlier that morning, his rationale if you will, for the mornings bombings. To our cynical ears his words sounded the height of Orwellian double speak war is peace, the bombing illustrates that bombing is wrong, and we will bring about justice and freedom through our necessary act of revenge. We couldnt help but to laugh at this rhetoric, but our laughter wasnt entirely mirthful. My laughter was tinged with nervousness. After all, these words were not intended as a joke. Few of us were cynical enough to imagine that the speaker didnt actually believe them.

There were under 100 people gathered as we approached. Our numbers actually looked better than it sounds because on this crisis riddled morning we learned that the park-like grounds of the Federal Building were off limits due to Federal order. Our small numbers were forced onto the tiny meridian between the grounds and the curb. Thus compacted we looked more impressive than our numbers should suggest.

The emotional tone of the gathering varied. I found one person who thought there was nothing like a good bombing to bring the community together, but others were more somber. The usual suspects showed up and were busy hawking their sectarian newspapers each claiming to have a better analysis than the competition. This was to be expected. But who would have imagined the woman with the poster in one hand while her other cradled an immaculately coifed poodle. Some were visibly distraught by the prospect of bombing the Afghani people. Her presence contrasted sharply with the chant 1-2-3-4, we dont want your racist war! The poodle woman simply smiled a seraphic smile and deferred participation in the chanting.

An older woman confined to a wheelchair held upon her lap a sign that simply read SPEAK YOUR PEACE. I marveled at her proud presence. How did she get here? How far had she come? Did this provoke a little guilt in me because I had other things to do today?

I did go interview one demonstrator as I was attracted to his sign. He held a poster that featured the multi-colored American flag on top, and below this the word BOMBS crossed out, and below that the word BREAD. I was sure it was a reference to the esteemed leaders address this morning where he tried to justify the refugee crisis precipitated by the fear, and now the actuality, of the bombing, by suggesting that the US would be making food drops in non-Taliban controlled areas. The UN believes that up to 7 8 million Afghanis will be at risk for starvation as the winter months approach and the esteemed leaders symbolic food aid was clearly designed to staunch criticism that the US actions were largely to blame for this crisis. What did my protestor friend think?

His name was Dave Jones. He assured me that was his real name though to be honest I didnt care if he wanted to give me his real name or not. Dave said he heard about the bombing as soon as he awoke because he turned on the TV first thing in the morning. He always knew he would make his way to Westwood when the bombing began. His sign? Well when he heard that that Bush was planning food drops the first thing he thought of was the group Food Not Bombs who often provide food for progressive gatherings. Bushs take on the whole concept seemed to be to provide both food and bombs for the people of Afghanistan. Naturally David thought the Afghanis could do without the bombs, so he crossed that part out. Why not just drop food? he asked me. Sounds reasonable enough to me, but then reason is not exactly ruling the day.

By 3:00 PM about four people with American flags took up position across the street from us. They had brought along a boom box and were blaring music of a country-western variety. They waved the flags as if only they alone earned the privilege to do so. These were the pro-war faction. One gentleman was visibly distraught by all the cars passing by who were enthusiastically honking in response to a sign across the street from him that read Honk If You Want Peace. The man yelled out in rage to no one in particular, that horn works because of our way of life. No one was listening which I think is a shame. The comment held the potential of being profound if only one could figure out its meaning.

By 4:00 PM word had spread about the interfaith gathering at the Mosque at 1075 Exposition Blvd. While we had concerns we may not be respectfully dressed each of us thought we would rather be at the Mosque showing solidarity with the communities of faith.

Not being an exceptionally spiritual person myself I had low expectations of the event. Imagine my surprise then when a religious person (with the exceptional public speaking skills we might associate with such a profession) spoke of what he termed the truest reality in the universe: that mercy brings mercy and revenge brings revenge. A message so simple yet so lost on us these days. Later he was to add a caution to his audience that as we act we must take care not to become the evil we deplore.

Then an Islamic scholar (forgive me, I had no program and I did not catch names) took the podium and began to speak about globalism. He put globalism in a context of ideas that have each had their turn enflaming the human imagination. Earlier there was nationalism, he suggested, and this had both positive and negative elements. Now there is globalism which also has positive and negative elements. The positives of an emerging global consciousness have nothing to do with opening up markets or the free flow of capital around the world, but has everything to do with an statement of human universality which he described as a global pluralism. This pluralism cant be denied us because we now recognize that we have no choice on this ever-shrinking planet, no choice but to uncover the commonalties of our varied spiritual practices.

Works for me, this cynical pseudo-activist with better things to do on a Sunday afternoon. Half way around the world million dollar cruise missiles are stirring up the dust in a nation which is often described as stuck in the 7th century. Undoubtedly there will be collateral damage. On this day I vowed not to count myself among the collateral damage, to try and keep my humanity above water while seemingly the rest of the world chooses to drown in the coming flood.

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