Keeping the peace
War protesters stage pre-emptive rallies in advance of possible conflict
Hundreds of Chicoans mobilized against impending military action in Iraq this weekend, adding their voices to those of millions around the world decrying the Bush administration’s push for war.
As many as 500 people marched downtown and rallied in the park, while an estimated 300 others packed into buses and cars to attend peace rallies in Sacramento. Organizers said they were happy with the turnout, considering that it rained for much of the day. Chico police kept a low profile and reported no incidents or arrests.
Protesters who held signs on Third and Main streets said people driving by were generally supportive but not uniformly so.
“It’s been mostly positive,” said Michael Holland.
“We had a couple frowns [and] a ‘Go home, hippie,’ but mostly smiles,” he said.
Later, a young man driving a pickup truck by the park where protesters were gathered rolled down his window and yelled, “Bomb the fuck out of them!”
The rally was fairly diverse by Chico standards, although it was heavy on the over-40 cohort. Many of the protesters said they were pacifists and opposed war on principal, but others said they were disturbed by the new Bush doctrine of “pre-emptive” military strikes.
A pair of retired Chico schoolteachers, who identified themselves only as Virginia and Judy, said they were marching Saturday because they felt Congress had betrayed the American people when it granted Bush broad powers to make war in the Middle East.
“I don’t believe in unilateral action or pre-emptive strikes,” Judy said. “Eight years of inspections did far more [good] than our bombing ever did.”
Virginia agreed, saying that Bush’s charges that the United Nations was appeasing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein by refusing to back military action were flat-out wrong.
“Appeasement and containment are not the same thing,” she said. “Appeasement means you do nothing. Containment means you use the U.N. Security Council to put pressure on [Hussein]. Containment works.”
Down in Sacramento, an estimated 10,000 people converged for a “California Says No to War” rally organized by a coalition of 15 different regional peace groups. Protesters of all ages and socio-economic levels came in buses from across the Northstate and beyond to show their solidarity. Throughout the day, as over 25 speakers, performance artists and musicians took the stage, reports kept flowing in of the massive amount of protesters taking to the streets in Rome, the United Kingdom, the Middle East and numerous other places.
The Chico Peace and Justice Center, one of the main organizers of the event, chartered four buses filled with 45 Chicoans each. A separate, locally owned bus belonging to longtime local activist Bob Seals also made the trip; it carried his recently unveiled 25-foot, flag-draped crucifix to the event.
“This is not flag desecration, not anti-religion,” Seals said, as people signed wooden figures that would hang from his cross. “Christ and patriotism are two of the most powerful forces in this country. … I’m saying don’t crucify us—why can’t we live through the peaceful ideals of godliness; why are we always dying for the flag and God?”
Fiery and passionate speeches were given sporadically throughout the day, mixed with hippie jams from activist band Clan Dyken, free-flowing hip-hop-style spoken word, a female-fronted local punk band Rojo y Negro, and the Sacramento Women’s chorus. Among the day’s powerful speakers were the fiery Rev. Timothy Malone, from UC Davis, and Vietnam veteran and independent journalist Eduardo Cohen, who compared the current militarism of the U.S. administration to the “Fourth Reich” and the job of today’s activist as “one of the most important in history.”
Chico folk singer Sherri Quammen performed two original songs ("Dear God” and “Land of the Free") around midday to warm applause from the biggest crowd she had ever played for.
“It was amazing,” she said afterwards, backstage. “People are just coming together. … Their support today was so beautiful. I didn’t expect any different.”
Buoyed by a sense of last-minute urgency and the Bush administration’s recent setback at the United Nations, the rally’s mood was mostly upbeat—with the usual lefty subgroups (hemp booths), assorted hippies and drum circles lending an air of ‘60s-like circus, complete with a hand-holding peace circle of the remaining protesters at day’s end that encircled the grounds, with some participants “ohmming” in meditative silence.
Media coverage of the Chico event was sparse, with local TV opting to cover the larger protest in Sacramento as well as a smaller rally in Redding. The E-R devoted 13 paragraphs and a front-page photo to its story, which described protesters as "begging for peace."