Suzanne Thompson is angry. The Venice publicist walks down the Venice Beach boardwalk carrying a sign that lists the names of Southern California Congressional representatives Jane Harman, Henry Waxman and Howard Berman under the words “Bush Lap Dogs.” All of them voted last week for the resolution that authorizes war on Iraq.
Yesterday was Thompson’s second Venice Peace March. She joined the march on this gray, blustery October day because of “my rage against what my government is doing. I think the best thing to do is get out in the streets.”
She’s not alone. Like many others who are dismayed, saddened, furious and frustrated by recent events, she found a place to voice her discontent at the neighborhood’s weekly Peace March, which turned one year old on Sunday.
Every Sunday since last October 14, a week after the U.S. began dropping bombs on Afghanistan, a group of marchers has made its way down the boardwalk from Rose Ave. through throngs of tourists and those who make their living from them. Buskers pause their performances to wave or nod to the marchers. The dancing model at Titanic, however, doesn’t miss a beat of his techno-tune tabletop routine. Tourists join the march briefly, waving peace signs while their better halves snap photos of them.
“We’re marching with you,” says Scott Johnstone of Portsmouth, N.H., while his wife, Beth Shafer, takes his picture.
At Windward Ave., as they do every week, the marchers set up an open mic hour under their “Venice Peace Movement” banner for anyone from the community to speak their mind about war and peace.
The size of the marches has waxed and waned over the year from a high of fifty to a low of three on one particularly dismal rainy Sunday. Yesterday’s crowd started at about 15 as they left Rose Ave., growing to more than 25 by the time they reached Market St. But the small event has found a wide audience. Marchers report being interviewed and filmed by news teams from as far away as Norway and Japan.
The peace marchers are a disparate group of people. Former war resister now homeless advocate Calvin Moss of Venice fled to Canada in the 1960s to avoid the Vietnam War draft, while his friend “Fast Eddie,” an attorney, served in the Air Force. Eddie says the war equation is easy to understand. “It’s about money. Big money.”
Cameron Rath, 13, of Culver City, sells political t-shirts from a table on the Venice Boardwalk. He used to watch the Venice Peace marchers go by, but now joins with them every week. “Basically, I think we need more peace,” he said, carrying a sign reading, “Bush is not even a good puppet.”
Walking with Rath was a friend from Santa Monica at her very first march. “I’m not a big political person,” Hali, 14, said. She decided to come to the peace march because she realized that since she’s young, what happens now will affect her future.
For many of the Venice peace marchers, the highlight of the event is the open mic hour. Bill Mitchell took his turn to argue against the idea that a war on Iraq might be acceptable if the U.N. or a coalition of countries supports the U.S. “It don’t matter how many people agree on committing a crime. It’s still a crime.” Jennie Katz of Venice urged her fellow Angelenos to boycott gas and oil products by taking her example – she doesn’t own a car and travels everywhere by bus.
One benefit of the open mic is that it gives community members an opportunity to get much better at public speaking, says producer Ed Pearl of Echo Park. It will help them “grow from the grassroots level.”
Painter and sculptor Jeffrey Hirsch of Venice feels that the free speech he exercises nearly every Sunday at the Venice Peace Marches is not enough. “In my delusions, I thought that me speaking up publicly would change things.” Because they don’t appear on television and radio, he has realized, the voices of peace advocates are marginalized. “Free speech is a hollow promise if we don’t have access to electronic media.”
Still, many find the Venice Peace March an inspiration to keep up their activism in difficult times. Therese Dietlin of Atwater Village has a booth on the boardwalk urging impeachment of George W. Bush and the five Supreme Court justices whose votes secured his presidency. “Just when I think I’m going to give up,” she says, a stranger on the boardwalk stops to thank the marchers for what they’re doing. In 52 weeks, Dietlin says, she has only missed one march.
The Venice Peace March started out as a one-time event, a brainchild of the local Peace and Freedom Party. Turnout and public expressions of support were so positive that organizers decided at that first march to turn it into a weekly event. They not only want to build their own grassroots peace movement in Venice, but “we would like to inspire other people to start their own marches until there are marches all across America against the war,” said Suzy Williams, secretary of the Peace and Freedom Party.
The Peace March begins each Sunday at 2 p.m. at Rose Ave. on the boardwalk. For more information, call 310-399-2215 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
. Info can also be found online at www.freevenice.org.