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Fair-Goers Criticize Anti-War Protesters : Demonstration: Some crowd members applaud the 60 marchers opposed to a war in the Middle East. Others honk horns or flash peace signs.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As they marched through the crowds of a Ventura street fair Sunday, protesters in the county’s first demonstration against a possible Middle East war were spat upon, cursed at and accused of undermining American soldiers in Saudi Arabia.

The demonstration by Ventura County’s fledgling movement against a potential Persian Gulf war--forged at a hasty meeting of area peace, environmental, civil rights and church groups Thursday--rekindled the type of animosity that divided communities and families during the Vietnam War.

A passing truck driver screamed that the protesters cost the lives of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam, and a man waiting at a food stand accused them of aiding Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s cause. “You’re all a real comfort to the troops in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Coleen Ashley, a longtime peace activist carrying a “Honk for Peace” sign, said one passing motorist spat on her and others made obscene gestures. “I got the one-finger peace sign several times,” she said.

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“People say we’re lousing up a happy day at the festival,” said Patrick Forrest, 60, a Camarillo High School teacher. “But things may really get loused up on the 15th of January,” he said, referring to the United Nations deadline for Hussein to withdraw troops from Kuwait.

It was not all taunts and ridicule for the 60 peace marchers at the Ventura Holiday Festival, which caused closure of several downtown Main Street blocks. Some festival-goers applauded, others honked car horns or flashed the two-finger peace sign. One shouted, “Bring our boys home.”

Yet the protest, one of a growing number of peace demonstrations nationwide, was striking for its confrontations and signs of polarization, which also marked the Vietnam conflict.

James McKinney, a 30-year-old machinist from Camarillo, confronted marcher Matt Egan, demanding an alternative to armed conflict in the Middle East.

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“Should we appease Hussein like Britain and France appeased Hitler?” McKinney asked, leaning closer to Egan. “He’s trying to build nuclear weapons, and your inactivity will lead to 1,000 times more deaths than in World War II.”

Egan, 17, a senior at Buena High School in Ventura, responded that he had no solution to the crisis. Later he said he is absolutely sure that access to Mideast oil is not worth jeopardizing his life or the lives of his friends.

“If some country invaded our soil, or someone was arbitrarily killing thousands of people, I’d fight,” Egan said. “I can’t see fighting for an oil monarchy.”

Most of the estimated 50,000 attending the festival took little notice of the protesters as they marched between vendors hawking pineapple pie a la mode and sirloin-on-a-stick and booths selling quilts, crystal ornaments and Christmas wreaths.

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Mandolin player Barry Kaufman, however, paid musical tribute to the passing demonstrators, segueing from a Christmas carol into Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” an anthem of the 1960s anti-war movement.

Ruth Murray, 46, had a personal reason for joining her first peace march. Her daughter, Joette, a 22-year-old Army sergeant, is encamped in the Saudi desert.

“War seems very obsolete to me, something we should be beyond by now,” said Murray, a barber who lives in Silver Strand. “The Arab countries are brothers, and we’re being used to do a job for them. When we’re gone, they’ll probably give Hussein his seaport access anyway.”

Ginny Connell, who unsuccessfully challenged Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) in last month’s election, said she joined marchers in support of a negotiated settlement. She said she is also concerned about the welfare of her son, who turns 18 in three weeks.

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“It’s important to negotiate seriously, not just as a ploy to declare war a month from now,” said Connell, 50, a former Catholic nun who is chairwoman of the Ventura County Democratic Party. “It doesn’t take long to go from a volunteer Army to an involuntary draft.”

Jerome Hopkins, 67, of Oxnard carried a sign declaring “No blood for oil. Use hemp.” Hopkins said 6% of the nation’s agricultural land could be used to grow hemp as an alternative fuel source.

“A war in the Middle East will be a massive carnage and a sheer blood bath with all those thousands of troops already glaring at each other,” said Hopkins, a member of Action Central America, one of the march organizers.

Some protesters said they were surprised that they did not meet with greater scorn, given the oil interests and military presence in Ventura County.

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They did find strange bedfellows in members of the John Birch Society, an ultraconservative group that staunchly supported the Vietnam War. On Sunday, its members were distributing literature against a Middle East war and the spilling of American blood “to guarantee oil shipments for anyone, especially Japanese and Western Europeans, who are far more dependent on Middle East oil than Americans.” The flyer supported increased offshore oil drilling and further development of nuclear energy.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Green Party member Mindy Lorenz saw the underpinnings of a White House conspiracy pushing the United States toward war.

“World opinion has been manipulated and we’ve been coercing support for a military confrontation,” said Lorenz, who was a write-in candidate for Congress in the November election. “In a democracy, you don’t have to line up behind a president if you don’t believe in his policies.”


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