‘Stop the war by stopping’

Five Reno peace activists gathered in near-freezing drizzle late Thursday afternoon.

“I’m chilled to the bone,” said Rich Haber, a retired transit worker from New York City. Haber moved to Reno on Sept. 11, 2002—the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. Dressed in light jacket over gray sweatshirt, the longtime activist shivered.

“This is the season of peace on earth—but if you say that, you’re anti-American,” he said.

Nancy Podewils, a retired social worker from Verdi, wore a long black coat and snug leather gloves. She carried a paper cup containing hot tea. She expressed dismay over signing bonuses proposed to recruit soldiers.

“Yes, we may need more money for health care and education—but we really need incentives to get more troops recruited!”

Event organizer Lisa Stiller, in purple knit cap, parka and long black skirt, tucked tagboard signs under her arm. She pulled out a letter addressed to Sen. Harry Reid. Everyone signed.

Rev. John Auer of the First United Methodist Church added his own letter and a copy of a recent column by the Boston Globe’s James Carroll.

“Democrats, take heed,” Carroll wrote. “Bush must not be allowed to further the chaos. Having led the world into this moral wilderness, America has a grave responsibility to lead the way out. We have to cease killing other people’s children, which is the way to stop them from killing ours. Stop the war by stopping.”

Last Thursday, the U.S. military death toll in Iraq had reached 2,959. The activists discussed plans for a vigil the day after Death No. 3,000. (See www.renopeace.org)

“To me, planning an event around the number of deaths is just horrifying,” Stiller said. Her son is in the U.S. military, serving in South Korea.

Some have feared that even sending Democrats to Washington might not result in the longed-for speedy withdrawal of troops in Iraq.

“We’re dealing with a bipartisan addition to militarism,” Auer said. He referenced Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 40-year-old warnings. “If vengeance was going to work, it would have worked by now.”

Last week, the Pentagon sought an additional $99.7 billion to fund its wars. There was talk of a “surge” in U.S. troops to Iraq (by some estimates, 20,000 to 30,000 additional military personnel). Senate majority leader Reid expressed initial support for a temporary surge. He later shifted, saying that sending more troops is not the answer and supporting the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation for complete withdrawal of combat troops by early 2008.

“It’s a civil war,” Reid said. “And America should not be policing a Sunni-Shia conflict.”

Grateful activists from Code Pink brought candy and flowers to Reid’s Washington office. In Reno, this delegation representing Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace assembled to thank the senator.

The tiny cadre had no permit to gather in front of the Thompson Federal Building on South Virginia Street. In minutes, a security guard approached.

“If you don’t have a permit, you’re loitering,” he said. “You could go inside.”

Inside the toasty foyer, activists concluded, proved a more comfortable place to loiter. But where were local media?

They’d hoped for coverage of the visit to Reid’s Reno office—though the senator wasn’t in town. Sparks Tribune photographer Debra Reid had taken some photos and left, as cameras aren’t allowed inside.

“Channel 4 is always late,” Stiller said. She chatted on her cell then announced: “Channel 2 is dealing with weather.”

After going through security and stowing forbidden signage, the group rode the elevator to the ninth floor, where they were greeted by surprised but friendly members of Reid’s staff.

“I criticize Reid so much,” Haber said. “Once in a while, I’ve got to give him some props.”