As the nation braces for war in the Middle East, Ventura County peace activists are gearing up an anti-war campaign that goes beyond demonstrations, placards and protest tunes.
Borrowing from their Vietnam-era predecessors and modern lobbyists, the Ventura County Coalition For Peace in the Persian Gulf has begun counseling draft-age men on becoming conscientious objectors and is sending mailers to enlist support and increase their number.
A 68-year-old Ojai publisher active in Vietnam War protests 20 years ago is arranging for the broadcast of videotapes with such titles as “War, Oil and Power” and “Getting Out of the Sand Trap” on local cable stations.
Students at Ventura and Moorpark colleges are planning sit-ins at their campuses should President Bush order an attack after Tuesday’s deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
“We don’t want to close down the schools, but we will have an immediate demonstration” if war breaks out, said coalition member Liza Black, 20, a Ventura College psychology major.
For weeks, the local anti-war movement effort has been waged through increasingly large demonstrations, such as those held in Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and Ventura over the weekend and those held nightly at Libbey Park in Ojai since last Monday.
Members of the coalition--which says it has a telephone network of nearly 500 people locally--have linked with national and regional anti-war groups and are encouraging county residents to attend larger rallies Jan. 26 in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“We’re not lighthearted souls giving out flowers, we’re very angry about this,” said Donna Schoenkopf, 47, a fourth-grade teacher who attended the Thousand Oaks rally Saturday. “Anger is the gasoline that gives you the energy to participate in a cause. It could bring positive results rather than dead bodies.”
The coalition--made up of students, teachers, ministers and longtime activists in a variety of causes--is relying more on donated time than donated money to counter what it considers President Bush’s bellicose proclamations, organizers said.
Its treasury stands at about $300, although its members have printed and sent thousands of postcards to Bush, members of Congress and United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, urging a bloodless resolution to the conflict.
“Because this is a conservative county, I don’t think our local congressmen are accustomed to seeing mass demonstrations,” said Sue Caspari, 31, a Ventura attorney, who has 23 phone volunteers on standby to mobilize demonstrators. “As our demonstrations grow larger, it will make an impression upon them that there is a diversity of opinion here.”
Lamar Hoover, the Ojai publisher of radical books, has asked colleagues to tape stirring anti-war speeches seen on C-SPAN for rebroadcast on cable channels locally.
“I got so fed up with the war in Vietnam and wanted to do something active against it,” Hoover said.
Hoover quit his job as Gourmet magazine’s managing editor in 1967 to take the same position with the pacifist Liberation magazine, he said. “I’m fed up with this war before it starts.”
Along with planning sit-ins at the county’s community colleges, a committee of 14 high school and college students said it plans to set up information tables, form a “Students For Peace Club” that could apply for school funding, drop pamphlets aimed at conscientious objectors into student lockers and follow military recruiters around campus to talk students out of enlisting.
Debby Tygell, 35, of Ventura, is directing the coalition’s efforts to get potential soldiers to declare their moral objections to a war. She said she will tell them that draft boards grant conscientious-objector status to one of five applicants assisted by a counselor, but to only one of seven who appear by themselves.
Tygell, an office manager and full-time college student in Ventura, said she is working for peace because “people need to understand how out of control this can get. No one really knows what today’s weapons are capable of, and no one wrote a script for this one.”
Steve Vogeler, a 25-year-old Ventura College student, has organized a “relay fast” in which a succession of protesters would give up food for a day or two. He has called on coalition members to cancel work and other commitments and make Tuesday “a day of fasting and prayer.”
Even among those who have rallied for peace, however, there remain sharp differences over what Bush should do to deter Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
For example, people who attended an anti-war organizational meeting Friday at First United Methodist Church in Ventura disagreed on whether economic sanctions were an acceptable alternative to war.
While Melissa Siebers, a 15-year-old Thousand Oaks High School sophomore, and others advocated continuing sanctions against Iraq, Gabriel Serrano, 43, of Ventura said sanctions are “a sophisticated form of terrorist policy.”
“Iraqi children are being denied medical supplies and foodstuff,” said Serrano, a Ventura County probation officer who went to Nicaragua to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Sandinista government. “It’s violent, it’s injurious and it’s a product of death for a lot of people,” he said.
Rev. David Laughray, who held an independent peace vigil Sunday night at Conejo Valley Church of Religious Science, said the vigil should not be mistaken for an anti-war protest. Laughray said some anti-war activists seem to be as hawkish as the leaders they want to keep in check.
“I looked at people on the corner holding up signs in Thousand Oaks, and they were as angry about keeping peace as the people who are angry enough to go to war,” said Laughray, 43. “We’re just praying that the governments make the right decisions.”