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Speaking against war

Times Staff Writer

More than 100 Hollywood actors, producers and directors will out themselves today as antiwar activists. Mike Farrell, Alfre Woodard, Ed Begley Jr., Tony Shalhoub and others will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. at Les Deux Cafes in Hollywood to issue a statement protesting the costs and risks of going to war with Iraq. Calling themselves Artists United to Win Without War, the celebrity signatories to the statement range from Gillian Anderson and Kim Basinger to Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne and Michael Stipe.

Denouncing war talk in Washington “alarming and unnecessary,” the simple, five-paragraph declaration urges the disarming of Iraq through “legal diplomatic means.”

“We are patriotic Americans who share the belief that Saddam Hussein cannot be allowed to possess weapons of mass destruction. We support rigorous U.N. weapons inspections to assure Iraq’s effective disarmament,” the statement reads. “However, a preemptive military invasion of Iraq will harm American national interests. Such a war will increase human suffering, arouse animosity toward our country, increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks, damage the economy, and undermine our moral standing in the world.”

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The glitterati in the group will fill the talk shows and entertainment magazines soon enough. This is the story of how two friends armed with nothing but their computers and e-mail accounts quietly rounded up some of the biggest names in Hollywood for the antiwar effort.

Last summer, Robert Greenwald (director of “The Burning Bed” and director-producer of the upcoming “My Dark Places”) started talking to his buddy, actor-activist Farrell (of “MASH” and “Providence”).

“We owe it all to Andrew Card,” recalls Greenwald. “It seems like a lifetime ago now, but he said, if you have a product, you don’t release it in the summer.”

Greenwald recalls thinking the comment by the White House chief of staff and former vice president of General Motors -- explaining why the Bush administration would wait until September to make its case for war in Iraq -- was outrageous. “I was talking to Mike Farrell, saying, ‘Did he really say that?’ Here were people who were using the language of the world we function in, only they were selling things that were life and death decisions for an enormous number of people.”

On Oct. 2, Farrell and Greenwald set up a teach-in at the home of Stanley Sheinbaum, the Democratic fund-raiser. Speakers included Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector turned peacenik, and David Cortright, a professor in the peace studies department at Notre Dame who also runs the Fourth Freedom Forum, a private research group that advocates the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons. More than 50 figures from politics and entertainment attended the gathering, including Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening, Tom Hayden and Gary Hart.

It was a turning point.

“We began to discern the extraordinary amount of concern out there -- and confusion,” Farrell says. “We didn’t pull that meeting together to start another organization. But we realized something had to be done.”

In the weeks following, Greenwald found himself growing more alarmed.

“I was watching the news more and more, and seeing one message,” he says. “Even before the elections, it was being brilliantly done by the administration. There were no other voices out there. The argument was about when you bomb them, not if you bomb them. It was about when you go to war, not if you go to war. The underlying assumptions were not being questioned.”

Greenwald and Farrell realized that there are people with high profiles and strong opinions who could speak out -- “and they happen to be actors and actresses,” says Greenwald.

On the weekend of Nov. 15, Cortright and a group that called itself the Win Without War coalition met in upstate New York. There they crafted the wording that would become the basis for the Hollywood statement.

Greenwald and Farrell began circulating the declaration by e-mail. They sent it to friends, business associates, acquaintances. It was a low-key campaign, but steady. There were no political advisors, no formal announcements, no fund-raisers. Word spread quietly, over dinner tables, at preschool pickups, on movie sets.

Some celebrities declined to sign, saying they preferred to wait and see. But many leapt on board, telling Greenwald and Farrell they were thankful finally to have an outlet to express both their patriotism and their antiwar views.

“Tea and I would love to sign the letter,” David Duchovny replied in an e-mail. “Tea was just saying at dinner -- ‘We’re going to be at war soon and it’s like we’re just blindly accepting the drift ... ‘ “

“I feel the current administration and the mainstream media are bullying the American public into blindly supporting acts of aggression,” wrote Janeane Garofalo before signing on.

At best, Greenwald says, they hoped to get 15 to 20 stars to sign. Instead, signatures of support continued to pour in over the weekend and into Monday.

The statement has also been signed by some impressively titled non-Hollywood names, such as Edward Peck, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq; retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll; and former ambassador and arms control negotiator Jonathan Dean.

The Los Angeles news conference will be followed by the release of a similar statement by the Win Without War coalition Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The coalition worked hand-in-hand with the Hollywood group in drafting its statement and orchestrating its news conference. The Washington coalition is made up of 15 organizations, including the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and MoveOn.

Artists United to Win Without War also plans to run a full-page ad in the national edition of the New York Times. The statement will then be forwarded to President Bush.

“There was an environment created after 9/11 where somehow it wasn’t patriotic to speak out,” says Greenwald. “I think there have been an increasing number of voices raised against war, but they have not done an effective job of reaching TV, radio and the print media.

“This is a way to get attention.”


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