Hundreds of peace activists demonstrated throughout Ventura County on Tuesday, adding momentum to the strongest anti-war movement since the Vietnam era.
An afternoon march on the County Government Center in Ventura attracted about 500 demonstrators--the largest protest in the county since the crisis erupted in the Middle East in August.
About 300 protesters held a sunset candlelight vigil in Ojai, and nearly 200 people attended a prayer service in Camarillo Tuesday evening. Today, several hundred students at Moorpark College are expected to walk out of classes to protest the U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf.
“This is not just a peace demonstration,” Robert Chianese, 48, of Ventura, told the cheering crowd of protesters at the Government Center. “This is an anti-Bush policy demonstration. We are going to break with the old way of doing things.”
The demonstrators, some clad in tie-dyed T-shirts and others in suits or dresses, vowed to keep up the pressure until a peaceful solution to the crisis is reached.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran and I’ve seen the carnage of war,” said Gabriel Serrano, 43, who was protesting at the Government Center, at Victoria Avenue and Telephone Road. “It doesn’t make sense.”
The Ventura protesters carried flags and homemade placards. When the sun set, they lighted candles and quietly sang peace songs. Among them were youths who rode skateboards and older people who had lived through World War II. One teen-ager from Thousand Oaks made his way through the crowd along the sidewalk on Victoria Avenue, playing his guitar and singing John Lennon’s anti-war song, “Give Peace a Chance.”
“I’m at the age where I could be sent to war,” said Aaron Craig, 19. “I don’t want to go.”
Tim Prebble, 14, a skateboarder who attended the Ventura demonstration with several of his friends, agreed.
“I don’t want to be drafted when I’m older,” Prebble said. “It’s stupid.”
“It’s stupid to fight for oil,” added Chris Larson, 13. “And I want to stop it.”
The majority of the protests held in Ventura County have been sponsored by the Ventura County Coalition for Peace in the Persian Gulf. At first, the anti-war campaign was slow to catch on.
But after Congress voted Saturday to authorize President Bush to wage war against Iraq, the mood shifted.
For the past few nights in Ojai, 200 to 300 people have attended a candlelight vigil at Libbey Park.
“We felt the need to be seen and heard and to join our lights and our hearts,” said vigil organizer Marilyn (Maggie) Phelps. “It gives us comfort.”
In Ventura, protester Harry Castaline, 80, said it is about time that people stand up and do something. “Where does it all end, and what are we going to leave for our children? We’re in a sad, sad situation.”
Moorpark College students say they will walk out of class at 11 a.m. today and demonstrate at the Campus Center until 2 a.m.
“I don’t think the U.S. should be there,” said protest organizer David Fee, an 18-year-old business major. “Nobody knows the real reason why we’re over there.”
Students distributed flyers to faculty members’ mailboxes Monday and said they planned to interrupt three of about 10 scheduled class periods.
“This isn’t in any way against the soldiers,” Fee said. “We’re standing behind the soldiers 100%. It’s against the people who are sending soldiers over there.”
So far, the demonstrations in Ventura County have occurred without violence, but on Monday an 17-year-old Thousand Oaks girl was arrested when she refused to leave a center divider at Thousand Oaks Boulevard and Moorpark Road. A 22-year-old Newbury Park man protesting at the site was also arrested. He was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
In Ventura on Tuesday, protesters who waved their signs at passing motorists were reminded by members of the peace coalition not to aggravate the few drivers who yelled expletives at the demonstrators. Most of the passing cars honked in support.
“We don’t want to see another war,” said Dolly Tonti, 60. “It can’t lead to anything constructive.”
Her mother, Antoinette Tonti, 80, who was clutching a rosary and waving a peace sign, added: “It will only spoil the cream of the crop--the young people. They’re the future of our county. It’s not too late to stop it.”
Santa Barbara County had an even larger protest Tuesday, when about 2,500 students attended a noon rally at Storke Plaza on the campus of UC Santa Barbara. After students and activists from local peace organizations spoke, about 1,000 students moved to the administration building, where they held a peaceful sit-in.
When the building closed at the end of the day, more than 150 students defied police orders to leave.
Police began issuing misdemeanor citations for trespassing, but the majority of students refused to sign the citations and were taken to the county jail, booked and released on their own recognizance, said John MacPherson, UCSB chief of police.
According to student body president Michael Chester, UCSB had a larger turnout than other UC campuses because of the large student community next to the campus.
“There’s been a history and tradition of protesting on this campus,” Chester said. “A lot of people who come here want to be active and this happens to be a very important issue to all of us.”
Thia Bell, Kirsten Lee Swartz and Times staff writer Miles Corwin contributed to this report.