New War, Old Protest

Photo by OCW staffAgainst my own better advice, I've attended a couple of the anti-war protests that take place every Friday evening across from South Coast Plaza at Bristol and Anton in Costa Mesa. They are a nice, earnest bunch of folks there, holding their candles and signs in the gathering dark.

The number of attendees at the 6 p.m. vigils has crept up from the 20s to the mid-30s, which organizer Mike Mang takes as a sign that momentum is building, as he does the number of cars responding to the “Honk for Peace” signs held by a couple of protesters.

Being late for most things, I got to view the protests from various distances as I arrived, and between the darkness and the traffic, I don't think most of the motorists passing by even gathered what the gathering was about. We could have been protesting Scott's Seafood for all they knew. “That's right, yeah! [honk, honk] Down with lobster!”

And, of the honkers driving closely and slowly enough to read the signs, I don't know that all of them were honking in agreement, as several were also leaning out their windows flipping us off. Maybe they really hated seafood.

“Protest signs seem to be pass these days.” This opinion was offered to me nine years ago by an 87-year-old who had been manning picket lines since the 1920s. Laguna's Jack Miller, now sadly deceased, had done the gamut of issues: labor, civil rights, nukes, toxic dumping, infant formula and every war from the Gulf back to World War II. Even though he was blind when I talked to him, he still got out and protested a bit—sometimes at the same corner where the protesters gather now—but he didn't see where it was making much difference.

I concur. A street corner is just not a good venue for changing minds, particularly when the issues are as complex and unexplored as our latest undeclared war. When you've got three to five words to make your point on a sign, and a driver has one finger to make his, you might as well be on Wally George's Hot Seat for all the sense that will come of it. Given some of these motorists' rage and poor driving skills, the protesters might be better served if they had signs reading, “Honk If You're About to Jump the Curb!”

I don't need these guys in SUVs shouting, “Fuck you!” and, “Sand-nigger-lover!” at me to be reminded that OC has become a cultured, cosmopolitan area. Still, if you're aware and you care, you feel you have to do something. Even blessed with this column to mouth off in, I feel like I need to be out there doing more.


Let's ignore the abrogation of our civil rights, the hundreds jailed without charges, the new anti-environment and anti-labor laws passed under the guise of patriotism and the deals we're making with repressive governments. That can all possibly be undone. But you can't bring dead people back to life, and every day we're dropping bombs on Afghanistan, we're killing innocent men, women and children who were not anywhere near the CIA-designed caves where our enemy Osama bin Laden is reputed to be wintering.

Though the Los Angeles Timesgives greater front-page priority to a story about the fate of killer dogs, inside the paper last week, you would have found accounts of successive U.S. bombing raids in which Afghan civilians were killed, some 80 one night, more than 200 the next, and the following night, of course, was when we bombed and killed our own troops and allied forces. We've bombed villages; we've bombed Red Cross buildings (you know, the ones with the red cross on the roof?); we've bombed food aid convoys.

The Times told of one villager who had stepped outside to take a whiz. Suddenly, bombs fell, and his wife, children and relatives—12 in all—were dead, along with the rest of the village.

Well, that's what happens in war, the Pentagon says. But that's forgetting that this is supposed to be a war on terrorism, and to go after a handful of criminal zealots by bombing entire provinces of innocent poor people shows a contempt for life nearly as great as that of the assholes who attacked us. If our government had indiscriminately killed your spouse, children, parents and lifelong friends in its attempt to root out Timothy McVeigh, would that sit okay with you? When the tally of Afghanistan's innocent dead exceeds the count of our innocent dead, will justice be done?

It's a new kind of war, we're told, with a new kind of enemy. The technology of war has changed, as has the increasingly lockstep way news outlets cover it. Shouldn't the ways of protesting it also change?

I remember in the early '70s when some U.S. alternative journalist asked a North Vietnamese official to describe the most effective means for American students to protest the war. He recommended they follow the example of the Vietnamese Buddhist monks who doused their clothes in gasoline and made human torches of themselves. Needless to say, that didn't catch on with Joe College, who probably correctly guessed that becoming ashes wouldn't advance the prospects of getting his ashes hauled via the “girls say yes to guys who say no” program.

Self-immolation isn't high on my list either, not while there are still new versions of AOL to look forward to. But there must be something with a little more pizzazz and bang for the buck than standing around with a sign people can't read.

For starters, folks, how about getting a website with a short name and a BIG sign to advertise it, so that there's at least a chance of sharing enough information to change some minds? And getting some damn donuts wouldn't hurt either. You could eat them, and passersby might think, “Say, I like donuts, too. Maybe these peaceniks aren't all bad.” If someone comes up to talk, you could extend the hand of friendship by offering a fresh donut, and the recipient might think, “If I accept the donut, will they know I'm a cop?” You can also hurl donuts at guys who flip you off, and they might think, “Bonk!” as powdered donut collides with forehead.

Get an illuminated sign. Get a blimp. Get Santa on a sleigh. Get huge photos of bombed-on infants who will be maimed or crippled for life. Make a commercial about how the yellow food-aid packets we drop are easily mistaken for our unexploded cluster bombs: “It's peanut butter!” “It's a cluster bomb!” “It's new Peanut Butter Cluster Bombs!” Boom.

Write your representatives. Write your party. Write to TV stations. Write songs and sing them.

It's a difficult war to protest. It's hard to oppose something that whacks out the Taliban, whose shitheaded dogmatism has been so ruinous for the Afghan people. It's impossible to forget our dead in New York and Washington, D.C. The war may be moving into another phase. As I write this, the Taliban are talking surrender, and the war drums on TV and in Washington are shifting to an Iraqi rhythm.

But an Iraqi mother holding a mangled child suffers no less than an Afghani mother or a New York mother. Their babies are equally innocent—and equally dead—whether killed intentionally by zealots or killed “collaterally” by an unwieldy and dispassionate military apparatus. Until such compounded terrors of the war on terrorism stop, that is why those persons you drive by at Bristol and Anton are standing there. Where do you stand?

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