The voices were immediately recognizable: high-pitched and youthful, carrying clearly above the drone of anti-war chants rising from the damp grass near the Federal Building in Westwood.
The Children’s Crusade had returned--at least for one sun-swept Saturday.
Like their generational counterparts from America’s last war, high school kids, college students and young workers again were on hand to provide the numbers and energy for a long day of anti-war efforts in Westwood and across the country.
Judging by the ‘60s-vintage clothes and flying disks they brought along with their peace banners, some young protesters at the Westwood rally seemed drawn as much by communal fun and faddishness as by somber sentiment. But most talked peace, just like the more ideologically attuned gray-hairs who ran the event and knew all the words to the old folk songs.
As they moved in to find places on the grass beside older veterans of peace demonstrations, the young protesters were the ones cheering the loudest and arguing the most passionately with flag-waving counterdemonstrators at the edge of the crowd.
“We’re the new foot soldiers of this movement, man,” said Steve Pinion, 17, as he strummed a guitar to a ragged beat supplied by six bearded bongo players.
Pinion, a student at San Gorgonio High School, had driven in from San Bernardino with a bongo-playing buddy. He slouched into the federal plaza, guitar slung over his shoulder, and sat down among the other drummers, picking up the beat without exchanging a word.
At San Gorgonio, not far from Norton Air Force Base, many students support the war effort, Pinion said. An outcast among them, he found it easier to give vent to his reservations about the war within the safety of a friendly crowd.
"(In school), a lot of them think I’m wrong, but they respect my feelings,” Pinion said. “Here, you can use your voice and it doesn’t get lost in the wind.”
With his Ray-Bans, Dutch Boy cap and cigarette stub dangling from his mouth, Pinion could have been central casting’s answer to a call for “early ‘60s sullen rebel-type.” He bristled when asked about his choice of clothes.
“It’s just what I wear,” he said. “I don’t have demonstration clothes. I didn’t come here to show off torn jeans.”
Other young protesters acknowledged coming out because of an enduring fascination with the protests of 20 years ago. Motioning to the tie-dye shirts, granny glasses and Army jackets worn by protesters nearby, Kelly Davis, 22, surmised that “peace, to some people, is a trendy thing. A lot of college kids idolize the 1960s as a better time to live than what we have now. The flower child is back, I guess.”
Davis, a political fieldworker, said she had seen students wearing ‘60s-vintage clothes that had been on sale in the display window of a boutique near the UCLA campus. But even those sartorial motivations, Davis said, were helpful if they brought out a larger crowd.
“There are a lot of people who come here for stupid reasons,” she said. “But by the time they leave, they begin to understand the real issues. They get politicized.”
Davis came to the protest with Norman Turk, 25, a drug rehabilitation center worker who wore a T-shirt that read: “Nuclear War Means No More Surfing.” Turk swayed to the beat of the bongo players.
“Listen to the drums,” he said. “It’s almost like a party atmosphere. There’s nothing wrong with that. Friendships start at things like this, and friends are important for the survival of any movement. If it was just politics, nobody would come out.”
Davis, arrested last week among a group of protesters who charged police at the Federal Building downtown, said she was surprised by the number of high school-age faces at recent rallies. Inside the County Jail, where she waited several hours last Tuesday before she was released, high school kids proved to be the most spirited arrestees, banging on their cell doors and taunting guards.
“They were the ones who got us all to start singing,” Davis said. “They didn’t know any of the words to ‘Give Peace A Chance,’ but they did a great job humming.”
Near a makeshift stage, two Granada Hills High students hunted for seats for their first peace protest. Red-haired and spindly, Steve Neufer, 16, kept his hands in his pockets as he searched for a spot to eat a peanut-butter sandwich. Robert Powers, 16, showed a mouthful of braces while he shouted with the crowd.
“I don’t want to see the country go down the tubes, that’s all,” Neufer explained. “My dad is for the war, but he was against the war in Vietnam. He told me the stuff he did. I guess you have to say what you feel, and I just don’t want us to get to the point where I have to go fight in a war I think is nuts.”
Powers had been to a protest against malathion in which most of the marchers were adults.
“I was against the spraying, but it was weird being about the only kid there,” he said. “This is different. Everywhere you look, kids are here. It makes you feel like you can do something.”
Not far away, surrounded by students who hugged each other and joked and gossiped about campus life, Paul Sannis, balding and carrying a dog-earred placard, was looking for the comfort of adult voices.
Sannis, 44, a computer salesman from Hermosa Beach, had seen his share of Vietnam protests in the early 1970s and dragged himself to a few rallies against U.S. Central American involvement before giving up on protests by the mid-1980s.
Now, out protesting again, Sannis felt a little as if his time has passed. Two college-aged women danced by, squealing. One of them squashed his poster. He picked it up and sadly bent it back into shape.
“I don’t think this is my war,” he said.