Music, Food, Arts and Crafts Give Peace a Better Chance

They held an anti-war festival in Redondo Beach last weekend, but there were no caustic placards, clenched fists, unruly crowds or whiffs of hashish in the air.

Marchers didn't swell into city streets or occupy government buildings. There were no angry slogans.

Indeed, at times the occasion was so ordinary that policemen passed idle hours learning to juggle.

"When you hold a demonstration, you end up preaching to the choir," said Jon Mercant, a Redondo Beach attorney who helped organize the two-day festival at Alta Vista Park. "We don't need to reach people who already know the message. We want to reach other people in the community."

And so it went. A peace rally a la community fair, replete with food, drink, music, entertainment, and arts and crafts. A family affair. War and peace over the picnic table.

"We want to explain our views to more people," Mercant said. "We want to let them know that the people here are like themselves, they are their neighbors, they go to church with them.

"We have things that you can read if you want to. But we won't shove them in your face."

About a dozen organizations affiliated with the South Bay Peace Network, a loosely organized collection of area activist groups that sponsored the event, distributed literature, solicited signatures on various petitions and recruited members at the south end of the fair. Several other organizations also set up information tables.

All over, the sales pitch was low key, the message simple and straightforward.

"People realize that we all have to live together on this planet no matter what your government is," said Miriam Newman, coordinator for the South Bay Committee for a Bilateral Nuclear Freeze. "That is the message we are trying to get out. That is why we are here."

The weekend festival was the first peace fair for the network, which was conceived last year to keep members informed about what's happening in South Bay peace circles. Organizers hope it will become an annual event for the group, which keeps no figures on overall membership. Mercant said 25 organizations belong to the network, but member organizations speak mostly in terms of mailing lists, class sizes and crowd estimates--not dues-paying members. Mercant guessed that about 2,000 South Bay residents are active in one or more of the groups.

Network organizations were given free space to set up tables and booths for their causes, which included everything from a voter registration drive by the Beach Cities Democratic Club to the solicitation of donations by the Hunger Project, a nonprofit group dedicated to ending hunger worldwide.

Members of the National Organization for Women sat across from volunteers from the Beyond War movement, a nonprofit group based in Pal Alto that teaches that war is an obsolete way to resolve conflict. A minister from the Church of Religious Science in Manhattan Beach shared a table with a Hermosa Beach representative from the Peace Information Center, an educational group that sells a collection of essays called the Peace Catalog.

At the table sponsored by the International Book Shop in Long Beach, there were bargains on books about socialism, Malcolm X, Karl Marx and Petra Kelly, the leader of the Greens, a radical environment party in West Germany. Across the way, the South Bay Interfaith Peace Committee emphasized religious roots and a multifaith approach to halting the arms race.

"We all have one thing in common," said Joanna Ryder, a Manhattan Beach mother and housewife who volunteered for the Hunger Project. "All the groups here are human betterment groups, working for a good cause."

"We have a different approach than a lot of the groups here," added Beverly Sincock of Torrance, a full-time volunteer for Beyond War, which does not belong to the network. Sincock said the group avoids formal affiliation with groups even remotely political. "But we are all part of the South Bay," she said. "And we all want to support the other groups working here."

Despite the united peace front, the serious literature and calls for activism clearly had second billing at the festival. Dominating the show were about 60 craftsmen and merchants who paid $50 each for a spot at the fair and who had come from as far as San Diego to peddle their wares. Many of them had little knowledge of the peace network, but some complained that the event was not publicized well enough.

"I go to these things all around the Los Angeles area," said one woman who sold small crafts and novelty items. "There just aren't that many people here. And those who are here aren't buying."

There were stuffed animals, painted T-shirts and driftwood clocks. Children drank lemonade and ate cookies, parents listened to rock music, and artists painted faces with bubbly whales and bright stars. Several visitors never stepped beyond the crafts and merchandise, looking puzzled when asked about the arms race and their understanding of the peace groups sponsoring the fair.

Others clutched literature in their hands, but their heads tilted away from the booths and toward the music and entertainment.

"The music is the best," said Mary Ryerson of Harbor City.

"I came to try out the different foods," added her husband, Kevin.

Fair organizers offered no crowd estimates, saying the event was free and crowds impossible to monitor. Several merchants guessed that there were "hundreds" of visitors each day. Mercant said the crowds were good considering it was the group's first effort.

"No one has said that the fair is a dumb idea," Mercant said. "The most negative reaction has been, 'Why bother?' And that is exactly the attitude we are trying to break."

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