Photo by OCW StaffA few weeks after liberal radio network Air America went on the air on March 31, afternoon talk-show host Randi Rhodes took a call from an Orange County peace activist named Marcus Running Deer Gourley. Gourley identified himself as a half-Native American military veteran who hails from a family of Republicans—and added that his father used to be the chief of the Buena Park Police Department. Then Gourley told Rhodes he had organized a protest in Brea that proved the majority of people in conservative Orange County were eager to get rid of U.S. President George W. Bush.
"America needs more Marcus Gourleys!" Rhodes told her listeners. "That's how we're going to get rid of George Bush this November! This is what Air America is all about!"
A few days later, Air America went off the air in Southern California and Chicago because of a billing problem. The Brea Peace Vigil didn't last much longer. If you showed up at the intersection of Brea Boulevard and Imperial Highway last Saturday, you'd have found weekend shoppers sipping Starbucks coffee. Gourley was nowhere in sight.
Contacted at his home in Yorba Linda the next morning, Gourley said the vigil had died the week before. He blames apathy and a pervasive culture of consumerism and greed.
"People have got their heads up their asses," said Gourley. At six-foot-six and 260 pounds, he's not going to find a lot of people who will disagree with him. Though 50 years old, he claims to look half that, says he avoids red meat, teaches martial-arts classes and aspires to become a professional ultimate fighter. Gourley says he used to be a military policeman in the Air Force. It's easy to believe: even in normal conversation, Gourley sounds like a drill instructor barking commands at recalcitrant recruits.
"The greatest danger facing America is our obsession with SUVs and the Lakers," Gourley says. "The most people we ever had at the vigil were 25 or so people. There are 9 million people in Orange County and 9,000 registered Democrats in Yorba Linda, where I live. Where the hell is everybody?"
It's a measure of Gourley's enthusiasm that the numbers aren't quite right (Orange County's population is 3 million; there are 20,000 Democrats in Yorba Linda). But there's no denying that, at one time, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq last April, the Brea Peace Vigil drew crowds of up to 50 and lasted for six hours on both Saturdays and Sundays. It remained strong even after Sean Hannity singled out the event, denouncing it as un-patriotic on his Fox News show.
Hannity's declaration led to angry counterprotests. "There were flags everywhere, and there were altercations and physical violence," said Michael Clarke, a 27-year-old Brea resident who helped organize the first protests. "One time, a guy got punched in the face. Another time, a car full of skinheads drove up, and they jumped out and ran up to us. We thought it was going to be a fight, but we talked them down, and it ended with handshakes. . . . Marcus is a huge guy, and his voice is real booming. He's a good guy to have on your side in cases like that."
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But after Bush declared that the war was over in May 2003, Clarke said many people lost interest. "It was kind of called off," he said. "Then Marcus Gourley started it up again, and for a while, it seemed to be going strong. But I drove by two weekends ago, and there were only five people there. The reason I stopped going is it was getting kind of flaky. People would say they'd be there and then not show up. If people were still out there, I'd be out there, too."
The demise of the Brea Peace Vigil does not spell the end of the peace movement in Orange County. There are still eight other ongoing weekly actions (see our Politics listings in Calendar for times and exact locations) in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Laguna Woods, Orange, Santa Ana and San Clemente.
"The death of one weekly action means nothing," said Gordon Johnson, a Green Party of Orange County activist who helps coordinate local peace actions. "They've come and gone quite a bit. I only wish the organizers would keep us updated better."