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Peacemaking: pick your role



The worldwide peace movement is on a roll, in national capitals and communities like Rochester. Geopolitical matters dominate --- witness the transoceanic court battle, Bush v. Europe, et al.

            But people are becoming peacemakers for visceral and moral reasons. They're confronting things like the "shock and awe" strategy propounded by Harlan K. Ullman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This strategy features "rapid dominance" by basically blasting the hell out of the "enemy." Imagine hundreds of cruise missiles landing on Baghdad in a space of hours or days.

            Some responsible mainline journalists --- the phrase today is practically synonymous with foreign --- aren't neglecting the bloody details. Recently in the UK Daily Mirror, for example, John Pilger recalled the aftermath of a "carpet bombing" run. "I slipped on a severed shank of a buffalo," he said, "and fell hard into a ditch filled with pieces of limbs and the intact bodies of children... The children's skin had folded back, like parchment, revealing veins and burnt flesh that seeped blood, while the eyes, intact, stared straight ahead. A small leg had been so contorted by the blast that the foot seemed to be growing from a shoulder. I vomited..."

The imperative to stop a repeat of this brought 150 Rochesterians to Midtown Plaza January 29 for an "unpermitted" demonstration.

            Some were veteran anti-warriors, like Metro Justice staffer Jon Greenbaum, an organizer of the event. Metro Justice is "burgeoning," he said afterward. "We've got people jamming into the office with cell phones to do the phone-banking. We're now the majority. Depending on how you phrase the question, you can [find] three-quarters of the people saying no to war."

            Two Fairport High School students, Anne Matysek and Erika Williams, took part at Midtown. How did they get involved? Anne mentioned the influence of Fairport High teacher James Nowak, who's advising the Fairport High Peace Club. (The club is sponsoring antiwar events February 10 and 12.) The huge military budget is troubling, said Erika. Anne conceded that "pretty much everyone" she knows at school is somehow pro-war. But neither young woman has been swayed. "These are things we believed in in the first place," said Anne.

            Soon Rochesterians will board buses for New York City. A major regional anti-war demo will take place there February 15, and Metro Justice is coordinating transportation. The event will stay on message from the January march in Washington: hands off Iraq. In the background, however, there's movement politics. The January march, though it had many participants and endorsers, was led by a Marxist-Leninist core group that raised some eyebrows. The New York event is sponsored by United for Peace, a coalition that includes groups as disparate as Greenpeace, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and the Socialist Party USA.

Movement theater is as vital as ideology.

            Pittsford resident Elaine Johnson was one of the "Raging Grannies" who dressed the part and marched around Midtown last week. Johnson said she's active with new local chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The chapter, she said, is "an action response to the 'Swords to Ploughshares' programs on the Hill [i.e. the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School]." It's also a link with tradition: FOR's national organization, based in the lower Hudson town of Nyack, was founded in 1915.

            Peace groups are generally spreading outward these days. Take the "anti-corporate globalization" movement, which has brought popular struggle against an Iraq war to venues like the recent World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

            The numbers of people mobilized are impressive, too. On January 18, perhaps a half million people rallied in Washington, DC --- the count is still controversial --- and more than 150,000 demonstrated in San Francisco. Actions in solidarity occurred in places like Shannon, Ireland (2,000 demonstrators). Large protests occurred last fall, too, in Hamburg, Copenhagen, Berlin, Tokyo, etc. Back home: 1,000 Rochesterians came out for one October rally, and at least 500 made the trek to Washington January 18.

            Another local connection: Last fall the German paper Die Tageszeitung acquired a full copy of Baghdad's 12,000-page weapons report. The unredacted version cited numerous corporations that had supplied Iraq. Eastman Kodak was credited with having supplied unspecified missile-related products. Kodak spokesperson James Blamphin told us that in the last five years, the only Kodak product that's gone to Iraq is x-ray film. Federal regulations, he said, require that records be kept for that long; the company destroys older records.

            Blamphin calls the Iraqi claim "sheer and utter nonsense." But he adds that Kodak did make "proximity fuses" for ordnance from World War II till the 1980s.

            Following on Blamphin: Without relevant records, there's no way of knowing if such fuses ever made it to Iraq. And --- if the peace forces fail --- don't count on future American occupation forces to shed light on the matter.

For more information on the peace movement and upcoming demonstrations: Metro Justice, 325-2560; Fellowship of Reconciliation, c/o Carmel Merrill, 244-6316; United for Peace, visit; Fairport High Peace Club, 421-2100 x649; Raging Grannies, c/o Vicki Lewin, 244-6759.

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