Activists try to decide next step in war protests


Having launched a movement to try to keep the nation from going to war, peace activists in Maryland and across America are now asking: Where do we go from here?

Unlike the Vietnam era, when protests grew louder as the war dragged on, most activists today said they have no illusions that continued demonstrations might help end the war.

Instead, they said their goals are to press the Bush administration on critical issues of how the war is waged, whether the nation will continue a policy of pre-emptive strikes and what the costs are to cities.

Rallies and demonstrations, prevalent in the first few days of the war, will continue, they said. Last week, one of the national anti-war groups, Act Now To Stop War and Racism, or ANSWER, decided to hold a march to the White House on April 12, one that they hope will again bring tens of thousands of people to the nation's capital.

But protesters said they must go beyond public displays and refocus their efforts to keep the movement's momentum going.

The American Friends Service in Baltimore, pointing out that billions spent on the war will have costs at home, is trying to marry the social justice movement with the anti-war movement.

Ruben Chandrasekar, program associate at the American Friends Service in Baltimore, and Dominque Stevenson, an AFS co-area director, said the amount of money being spent on the war would go a long way to alleviating poverty and helping failing schools in cities around the nation.

"One of the things that constantly resonates is to connect war abroad to our communities at home," Stevenson said.

What AFS hopes to do is to tap into the African-American community in Baltimore, going to places like Lexington Market, to hand out leaflets about the war and hold forums in neighborhoods around the city this spring. They have also begun trying to get those interested in peace to work with those concerned about school and health issues in the city.

For instance, AFS will be offering support for a rally to be held in Baltimore on Friday, the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Not all of those who worked to avert a war believe they should keep up the protests, however.

Susan McFarlane quietly began her own demonstration last summer by producing red, white and blue "Women Opposing War" buttons. She and two friends have handed out 30,000 buttons, but last week McFarlane took hers off. "You can't be telling people who have their lives at stake, 'You are doing the wrong thing,'" she said.

Many activists believe that they can support the troops without supporting the war. And if protests had stopped with the war's start, the message to President Bush would have been that he can ignore the anti-war movement, said Nick Sheridan, a member of Citizens for Peace, a small, grass-roots anti-war group started in August in Baltimore.

Bush should know that there are "political costs of waging war," Sheridan said." Citizens for Peace hasn't drawn up a strategy for the months ahead, but it should, Sheridan said.

The group plans to set up shrines around the city to American soldiers and Iraqi children who have died in the conflict. And they are encouraging people to wear black armbands. He said the shrines will look much like those placed along roads where people have died in car accidents.

Sheridan and others in the religious community said that while they may not be able to stop the war, they can begin raising issues that could help to determine how the war is fought and what the aftermath brings.

The Bush administration should conduct the war in a way that minimizes casualties and the destruction of infrastructure, said Stan DeBoe, justice and peace director at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which represents 20,000 priests and brothers and 120 Catholic religious orders.

Activists are also concerned that the Bush administration's foreign policy appears to have shifted, so that war is now justified when leaders believe there is a threat to the country. "We are finding it difficult to see ourselves as an aggressor nation," DeBoe said. "It is a frightening precedent. ... What will be our foreign policy in the future? People in the peace movement want to be part of the discussion."

The National Council of Churches, which represents 140,000 churches, is working on some of the same issues while trying to support the troops and pushing to ensure that the United Nations is involved in humanitarian efforts and in rebuilding Iraq.

"We are unanimous in our opposition to the war and our prayer that this end quickly with the least amount of death and destruction, and that we move our foreign policy away from first-strike and preventive action toward a policy of fairness and diplomacy similar to what was practiced before this war," said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the organization.

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