by Angie Brenner
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the American invasion into Iraq, and while the Shock and Awe now may be directed to public and political support for this preemptive war, protest groups haven’t generated much steam with the general populace or the main-stream media. I wonder why.
We all know the evidence that 9/11 had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, and the American public and elected leaders were brought into this war under a false pretense – and that at least half of Iraqis are displaced, wounded, or killed and the other half lives with trauma. What is the logic that justifies more killing in order to save-face for those who have already been killed? What did we learn from Vietnam? I decided to attend my first anti-war march and rally last week in San Diego to see and be with people unafraid to speak out.
“How many people marched?” asked my sister in Oregon.
”Oh, at least a couple hundred,” I replied. This seemed to me a decent number. I live in the small mountain community of Julian in San Diego’s back country where good peace vigil turnouts on the corner of Main Street can be up to 15 people.
”Two Hundred?!” My sister gasped. “This is San Diego, a city of what? 3 million? and with Gore Vidal speaking. I thought it would be one or two thousand!”
She was right, of course, it should have been more. The San Diego Union-Tribune over-estimated at 500 protestors, but still a low turn out for an important cause: a march and rally about a senseless, cruel, war with no end in sight, and a speech by none other than Mr. Gore “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace“ Vidal. Even the recent California 5 billion dollar budget shortfall for funding education against the tally of one to four trillion dollars already spent in Iraq didn’t make a dent in the apathy of most San Diegans.
The march and rally (co-sponsored by several groups like the Coalition for Peace and Justice and Activist San Diego) in the multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, kicked off with the S.D. Faith Leaders for Peace (FLFP) representatives – there were a couple Catholic priests, Unitarian minister, Muslim imam, and Buddhist monk.
“We must be the peace that we seek,” said the Rev. Beth Johnson of Palomar Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church.
Imam Sharif Battikhi, of the American Islamic Services Foundation, listed the points on the Iraq war that unite FLFP into one voice, “America must: #1. Reduce the number of soldiers in Iraq, #2. Not maintain a long term military presence in Iraq, and #3. Gather international and UN support to ensure the ongoing security in Iraq.”
Dr. Jeffery Gordon spoke to those wearing and carrying signs for: HEALTHCARE, NOT WARFARE! He listed the numbers of the dead and wounded, calling Bush, King George the Destroyer. “Bush compares health insurance to car insurance. He has turned his back on the progress of civilization,” said Gordon about the systematic dismantling of scientific research. “I’m unable to trust the medicine the FDA approves.” 47 million Americans are without health care coverage; 7 million were added to this list since 2000. Not an encouraging number considering the aging of baby boomers, and certain to be at the forefront of this year’s election issues.
Students from the Education, Not Arms Coalition asked the audience to sign a petition to remove gun shooting ranges from high school campuses, and to inform students that ROTC military science courses do not count for college credit. Shooting ranges on campus? “Yes, it’s true,” one of the students confirmed. “And, our school has a zero weapons policy.”
It was Vietnam era soldier, Gloria Daviston with Veterans Against the War, who got the protestors to put their money where their mouth is, and to open up their wallets.
”Bye Bye Blackwater,” railed Daviston with clenched fist in the air. The crowd cheered the long fought protest against the mercenary training camp taking up residency in San Diego’s fire-prone back country community of Portero. Last week, Blackwater pulled out of negotiating for land.
”And, Bye Bye Bush,” shouted Daviston with her million-watt smile. “This piss poor profiteer of the pathetic presidency.” She motioned to the young women from Pillows for Peace – “Send a pillow to the Whitehouse and tell the president to give the war a rest.” The women held out empty pillow cases. “You must pay for peace,” said Daviston. Few people shrunk back as green bill dropped quickly into the cases.
Daviston might be a hard act to follow…unless of course you are Gore Vidal.
“If we hadn’t already been a wounded country, we wouldn’t have this presidency,” said the 83-year-old Vidal in a voice of velvet authority. “It’s as low as America has every fallen.”
Given the fact that Vidal was born in 1925 and has lived through and written about American wars and history and culture, the statement held in the air for several moments. I could almost feel the collective brains comprehending the words and weighing the importance.
Vidal led with the topic of the 2008 election. As a life-long Democrat born at West Point, New York (his stepfather ended up marrying Jackie Kennedy’s mother), there was no question that he would be voting for the Democratic candidate in November.
”Obama or Clinton?” said Vidal wistfully. “Oh, I could be content with either.” He spoke of how, as politicians, they inflate themselves above the other on the road to the primaries and the White House. “Let them suffer a bit as they go up Calvary,” he said with his wry, intellectual wit before adding a reflection on the real ‘state of the union’ in few, yet poignant words:
”Either one is too good for us.” another pause as the audience takes in the information and swishes it around the synapses.
Vidal spoke kindly toward his friend Floyd Morrow, this year’s San Diego Democratic mayoral candidate, who stood nearby. “You’re lucky to have Floyd. There are too many creeps in polities,” he said referring to Republican Randy Cunningham, the former San Diego Representative convicted and jailed for bribery and tax evasion. “It’s time for some real housecleaning.
Now a resident of Los Angeles, Vidal keeps a close and active watch on American politics – until a few years ago Vidal resided in his villa on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
”Explaining to Italians that America isn’t as stupid as it looks wasn’t easy,” said Vidal. “When you have to say this to Italians, you know your country is in trouble.”
Cane in hand, he left the podium, with assistance, to an awaiting wheel chair. His knees may have failed him throughout his life, but mind and spirit, and humor, remain strong.
Faith Leaders for Peace www.flfpeace.org
Activist San Diego www.activistsandiego.org
San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice www.sdcpj.org