Galvanized by the growing threat of war in the Persian Gulf, a coalition of Orange County peace activists Sunday staged a ‘60s-style anti-war protest, drawing about 400 people to Mile Square Park.
Vietnam veterans, Palestinians, feminists and Gray Panthers--some wearing Middle Eastern scarves, tie-dyed T-shirts or camouflage hats--sat on the grass listening to folk songs and speakers urging the U.S. government to seek a negotiated solution to the crisis and withdraw military forces before the holidays.
Protesters carried signs reading “Bring Home Troops Now” and “To President Bush: Read Our Lips, No War.” Gray Panthers members Hope Busby, 89, and Maxine Quirk, 69, sat beside a sign they had made in 1981 to protest draft registration: “Not Our Sons, Not Your Sons, Not Their Sons.”
Sponsored by the month-old Orange County Coalition for Peace in the Middle East, the rally was the county’s largest protest so far since the military buildup began after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2. It is linked to a growing nationwide protest movement, organizers said.
So far, 238,000 U.S. troops have been sent to the Persian Gulf. On Saturday, 13,000 more shipped out from the Southland.
Speakers accused President Bush of jeopardizing American soldiers’ lives and wasting tax money to control Middle Eastern oil reserves in the face of pressing domestic issues. They further criticized Congress for not telling him to stop.
“How dare they say they represent the American way of life?” asked Jeanie Bernstein of Laguna Beach, founding president of the Alliance for Survival. “We represent the American way of life. We are concerned about health care, affordable housing, education and the homeless.”
Speaking for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Nadia Bettindorf said the international community, not the United States, should help the Arabs settle what is really a regional dispute with a complex and largely ignored history.
Women particularly should be insulted that their tax dollars are being used to support Kuwaiti and Saudi regimes in which women remain veiled and can neither vote, drive, nor inherit money, said Rosalie Abrams, director of the Orange County Feminist Theater.
While counter protesters were anticipated, none materialized.
“This is Republican Orange County. You have to be careful when you talk against the President,” Bettindorf said. “Maybe they don’t think we’re legitimate.”
Some organizers said anti-war protests should have been staged before now, but others noted that this peace movement has grown faster than the Vietnam protests.
“Then, we didn’t have tens and hundreds and thousands of troops right off the bat . . . ,” said Bernstein, who was involved in that era’s protests.
“That conflict is still fresh in people’s minds,” she said. “People see how we can get sucked in.”
Organizers circulated petitions they said will be presented to Bush in January. In order to gain more recruits, they said they also planned information-oriented “teach-ins” at colleges and high schools and more rallies and street demonstrations.
A demonstration is scheduled on Saturday at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, and a teach-in Dec. 16 at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. Anti-war vigils are planned from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday in Laguna Beach.
Participants said the tragic lessons of Vietnam must be remembered.
Jim Gibson, 42, a Vietnam veteran from Anaheim, wore a camouflage hat with a ‘60s-message button: “Hell no, we won’t go.”
“I have a 17-year-old son,” he explained. “I don’t want him to have to go through what I had to go through.”