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The Peace Movement Grows Up BY LEON LAZAROFF Washington D.C. THE MORNING AFTER bombs began to destroy Baghdad, telephones at the National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East began to light up. Calls came in from all over the nation. While planning for the marches on January 19 and 26 began just after the U.S. military deployment in August, the response was historic. “I can’t overstate that this is really a national movement based in local communities,” said a hoarse-voiced Leslie Cagan, the campaign’s director at a recent post-rally meeting in a New York City union hall. “These rallies were the result of enormous initial outrage and a lot of good organizing.” What was so striking about the January marches, organizers would say later, was not their size a combined 350,000 according to organizers but the diversity of the marchers. The breadth of ages, races, affiliations, religions, and ethnicities present was, by all accounts, more typical of America than any mass demonstration in memory. The mainstream media, though, took a much different view. Searching for a context from which to make sense of dissent, newscasters habitually dragged out the tiresome stereotypes of protestors as nothing but a new generation of bleary-eyed ’60s hippies and idealistic intellectuals all chiming on about peace and love. The peace movement in the 1990s, however, differs greatly from its predecessors. Transfixed nightly by “continuous coverage” of the Middle East crisis, many viewers may be surprised to learn that the largest, most experienced, diverse and best-. organized peace movement in the history of this country is rapidly taking shape. “We are at a point in this movement that took four or five years to arrive at during the 1960s,” said Harvey Wasserman, an activist and historian who is currently .an organizer with Greenpeace. “Rallies are being organized by a whole slew of people who were not particularly involved in protests 20 to 25 years ago. This may be the overriding difference between this movement and the ’60s.” Whereas the movement against the war in Vietnam was. largely driven by unrest on campus, the peace movement of the ’90s, while likely dominated by young people, en Leon Lazaroff , a New York. City writer, at tended the January 26 march in Washington. compasses a much greater scope of union, religious, and working-class support, environmental and veterans groups, elderly and middle-aged people, and people of color. But unlike the anti-war movement of the 1960s, which came of age following the comparative dormancy of the age of Eisenhower and hula hoops, the present-day peace movement has evolved from 25 ‘ year of work on women’s issues, homelessness, AIDS, racism, civil liberties, and, increasingly, the environment \(which is fast becoming the most During the Reagan Administration, progressive movements came under fierce attack ; but in many cases, movements such as those focused on AIDS, homelessness, and the environment became more militant, more resilient. “This notion that the peace movement has been asleep for 20 years, that this is the first real activism since the ’60s, is hogwash,” said Cagan, exclaiming her impatience with the press comparisons to that vaunted decade. “There has been a whole lot of organizing going on since Vietnam that doesn’t get factored in here. But it’s the central element.” One immediate result of that organizing has been the comparative ease by which many first-time protestors have been able to get involved in anti-war activities; it was much different in 1964. Daniel Ellsberg, who became in the 1980s a fixture at major rallies, was pleasantly surprised at the makeup of recent marches. “I’ve often asked during these past few months how many are demonstrating for the first time. And I find it to be the majority,” he said. “There were very few rallies of this size in the 1960s maybe a few in 1969, and only after 30,000 deaths. Now we are finding a rally of this size at a time when the war is still very popular and before a large number of U.S. casualties.” Besides demonstrating a greater show of numbers, the 1990s peace movement must also demonstrate that it has learned from the mistakes that fractured and ultimately tore apart the movement of the ’60s. One area of improvement lies with the treatment of soldiers and their families. A generation ago, soldiers returned to a society in which the government set a tone condemning young, lower-class, often minority men and women for not winning the Vietnam War; and some segments of the public contributed to the practice of blaming the soldiers for their government’s misdeeds. “We must make it clear that we support the troops, that we want a comprehensive GI bill and a commitment by this government to provide a decent life for the people who risked their lives for their country,” said Mae Ngai, a member of UAW District 65. Many signs at the rallies read, “We love our troops Bring Them Home.” The presence of veterans, principally, although not limited to, those who served in Vietnam, has become a cornerstone of the 1990s peace movement. Winning back important symbols such as the flag has likewise becothe a goal. Leading the January 26 march were scores of veterans hoisting a long line of U.S. flags. “The flag belongs to the whole country. It is our history and our future,” said Bill Cleary, a World War II veteran from Shellbourne, Vermont. “During Vietnam we let the flag stand for the war, but in this war we are not going to allow that. We are carrying the flag.” Another almost entirely new wrinkle to the ’90s movement is the active and early presence of families of troops opposing the war. In dozens of communities across the country, a national network of the Military Families . Support Group has taken a lead role. “There are a lot of older parents getting involved. Not just those who were around in Vietnam, but many who have never been political before in their lives,” said Sally Austen Tom, whose brother is serving in the Persian Gulf. “They are becoming politically active in a way many in that generation have never been active. This is an important change.” One advantage protestors today have over the movement of the ’60s is the nearly universal opposition within the movement to Saddam Hussein. Virtually the entire peace movement is united in its opposition to the invasion of Kuwait, regardless of anyone’s opinion of the Al Sabah family’s oil plantation. During the Vietnam War, the New Left’s support for Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist movement alienated some Americans who opposed the war, and obfuscated an essential point: A U.S.-led war in the Third World, or anywhere, provides no solutions. “We are against what he did. We are against any country crossing the border of another country, but is war a solution?” asked the experienced face of Moe Fishman of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. “This war will ultimately be a disaster for the Arab peoples, for Israel, and for those Americans that will die unnecessarily.” 4 FEBRUARY 22, 1991