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Peace Activists Report a Surge of New Support
19 March 2002
The Boston antiwar movement, largely silent through battles in Afghanistan, is drawing new converts and planning new protests spurred by President Bush's "axis of evil" remark and an expected escalation of the war on terrorism, organizers say.
More than 20 grass-roots organizations, from Jamaica Plain and Roxbury to Somerville and Waltham and beyond, have mobilized recently, joining forces with longstanding antiwar movements in hotbeds of activism like Cambridge.
On Saturday, nearly 150 people attended a series of daylong workshops organized by United for Justice with Peace, a coalition that formed shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, organizers said.
The numerous organizations, led by United for Justice with Peace and the American Friends Service Committee, are gearing up for peaceful protests on April 20 in Washington, D.C., and Boston. They're also planning lobbying efforts, continuing vigils, and distributing literature.
The State of the Union address, in which Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil" that was threatening to the United States, seemed to awaken activists who had been in line with military strategy thus far, believing that attacks on the Taliban and Al Qaeda terror network were justified as retribution.
"The `axis of evil' thing galvanized a subgroup that felt that Bush was now going beyond a reasonable response to what happened on Sept. 11," said James Tracy, headmaster at the Boston University Academy and a longtime peace movement scholar.
People coming forward as activists generally believe that the government is targeting countries it doesn't like and, at the same time, setting up an untenable military mission, Tracy said.
Now, novices such as Vivion Vinson are ready to march.
The Somerville resident, describing herself as "politically middle of the road, middle-aged, upper-middle income," is typical of those signing up, organizers said. Vinson had never participated in antiwar efforts, but decided to when the president stepped up rhetoric against other countries.
"You're not talking about a big radical here," Vinson said.
Like other converts, though, she became concerned after reading of the "axis of evil" speech. Vinson became more alarmed over recent reports of US planning documents that consider the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea, China, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran, and Russia.
"All of a sudden, it became clear that there were no specific limits of military activity," said Vinson, who is helping organize a Somerville-Medford antiwar group. "Terrorism seems to be used as a blanket term for justifying stuff that would be a lot harder to justify for the public.
"I fear the war is expanding and that it could cause more terrorism. I think more bombing will create more terrorism, not less."
Longtime organizers also acknowledge that there would be many fewer people getting involved in protests if Osama bin Laden was still the target.
"I think people felt, `OK, something very bad happened on Sept. 11 and the people who did this need to be punished,"' said Vicky Steinitz, a key member of United for Justice with Peace and a longtime activist.
But now, she added, "People are beginning to realize the incredible toll against innocent people and they are troubled by a nation that thinks it's OK to declare anybody the enemy without considering the costs."
Asked to describe the converts, Steinitz, a professor at University of Massachusetts-Boston, said: "I would say that many, many people who haven't been involved are joining. There's also a lot of older people who are coming back to activism, having thought they'd never have to do this again."
She said she was referring to Vietnam War protesters.
In recent weeks, activists have lobbied against military escalation with several Massachusetts congressmen, including Stephen D. Lynch and Martin Meehan. Steinitz said various groups have collected 2,000 signatures on a petition against escalation of the war.
In addition to the weekly vigils that organizers described as widespread, a concert was held last weekend at which bands performed songs that a radio conglomerate had suggested not be played following the World Trade Center collapse. Steinitz said performances were designed to criticize limits on free expression.
"I think there's a strong concern about this war," said Cynthia Peters of the Jamaica Plain Action Network. "You would never know it from reading the papers or the polls, but people have deep concerns and they are not sure how to express them."
Peters's group had its first gathering 10 days after the attacks and began meeting regularly on Oct. 1, before bombing in Afghanistan started. In recent weeks, the meetings have "really picked up steam," she said, and are attended by dozens of people.
"I think the momentum is coming about because people are realizing this is going to be a long, drawn-out war on terrorism, something equivalent to the Cold War, and the administration has basically created this vague demon of the world," Peters said.
"We know," she added, "that we have to set up a long-term strategy for fighting this war."