Women at front lines of war protests


Although Rita Lasar lost a brother when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center, she's outraged that President Bush has linked Sept. 11 to the war against Iraq.

Bush called Lasar's brother, Abraham Zelmanowitz, a hero during a speech at the National Cathedral in Washington a few days after the attack. Zelmanowitz, 55, could have escaped, but he remained with a quadriplegic friend on the 27th floor of the trade center's north tower. Ironically, it was Bush's praise of Zelmanowitz that prodded his sister to oppose U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"After Bush mentioned my brother's heroic act, it became apparent that my country was going to use my brother's death to justify attacks in Afghanistan. That was a horrendous blow that hit me as hard as Sept. 11," she said.

"Now, revenge for Sept. 11 is the excuse they are using to bomb Iraq. I will not let my brother, my dear brother's death, be hypocritically used for political reasons. It's exploitation."

Across the nation, the voices of Lasar and other women are molding the anti-war movement. Women are on the front lines of the protests, they're committing acts of civil disobedience and some are working behind the scenes to provide the moral and intellectual glue that's holding the movement together.

Lasar, who lives in Lower Manhattan, said she's been "shocked and awed" by the televised coverage of the bombing campaign in Baghdad. She said she supports the war against terrorism aimed at Osama bin Laden, but Bush has not provided a solid link tying Iraq to Sept. 11.

A week ago, as war with Iraq loomed, Lasar, 71, was among a handful of anti-war activists arrested at the Capitol in an act of civil disobedience when she deliberately walked into a restricted area.

Planning for last week's protests began in the fall, said Medea Benjamin, a longtime San Francisco activist. She is a key figure in the anti-war group Code Pink, whose name parodies the Bush administration's color-coded terrorism alert system.

On Wednesday, Benjamin showed up on the steps of a Washington church dressed in the garb of an Arab woman. Her clothes and face were streaked in red dye to look like blood. She cradled a red-stained doll and the severed foot of the doll hung from a string around her neck.

Benjamin said she had seen the face of war firsthand during visits to Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We've talked to families who suffered tremendously and are agonizing now over what to do to protect their children," she said. "War is not a game, war means death and destruction and maiming. War hurts innocent children, it hurts women, it hurts families, it means suffering, and we're here today to say we feel a tremendous sense of agony."

Marie Dennis, the vice president of Pax Christi International, a Roman Catholic peace group, was arrested Wednesday after she and other protesters crossed a barricade and walked toward the White House.

"Pax Christi has been opposed to this war since it was first conceived," Dennis said before she was arrested. "We have spoken out in countries around the world. The leadership of the Catholic Church, including the pope and cardinals and bishops in every country, have spoken out very clearly in opposition to this war. A statement from the pope and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace calls the war 'a crime against peace.' "

Dennis said at least 1,500 Pax Christi members nationwide have pledged to participate in acts of civil disobedience.

Last year, Dennis was among the 20-member interfaith group that visited Afghanistan with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based group headed by Benjamin. Dennis is also the director of the Office for Global Concerns for the Maryknoll Mission.

Just a few blocks separate the Bush White House from the Institute for Policy Studies, but they might as well be on different planets. The institute is often described as a progressive think tank, which puts it left of liberal.

Karen Dolan, an IPS staffer, drafted a resolution that Code Pink activists delivered to the office of Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in the Hart Office Building last week. The South Dakota lawmaker was on the Senate floor at the time.

The resolution supports "our men and women in the armed forces 100 percent." But it also says that the "House Budget Committee's Republican majority voted to cut the Department of Veteran Affairs budget by $25 billion during the next 10 years," warning that that could result in further cutbacks in a number of programs for veterans.

Dolan has also played a key role in the Cities for Peace movement, which opposes the war.

Cities for Peace activists in 139 jurisdictions, including Baltimore, have passed resolutions condemning military action in Iraq. Dolan said the resolutions have helped to generate a discussion of the war in city halls and county government chambers around the nation. More than 30 million Americans live in jurisdictions that have passed Cities for Peace anti-war resolutions, she said.

"The war's economic impact is coming forward slowly, but it will have an impact on financially strapped cities," Dolan said. "Cities for Peace has contributed to the public dialogue in town hall after town hall. It increased the level of democracy around this issue because this debate was not happening in Congress."

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