Family peace rally

Times Staff Writer

Candlelight and the echo of bongo drums beckoned visitors inside the Topanga Canyon Community Center, where hundreds of local families had gathered for a peace rally.

The sign over the auditorium's stage declared the event a "Roar for Peace," but the closest this low-key crowd came to shouting occurred about 30 minutes into a three-hour show, when giant flames shot toward the high-beamed ceiling, threatening to set the whole place on fire.

A collection of tea candles on a corner table had ignited. Fortunately, those closest to the flames quickly extinguished the blaze with their bottled water, and the unflappable canyon crowd -- "I thought that was part of the show," said one woman -- relaxed into a quiet Saturday night of earnest antiwar songs and speeches.

Local cafe owner Arlette Parker had organized the rally with friends after listening for weeks to the grumblings of her clientele over the imminence of war with Iraq.

"I just said, 'We're going to be a voice for these people,' " said the petite woman with a thick French accent, "so our government knows."

Musicians, writers and actors came from the relatively distant realms of Pasadena and Culver City, volunteering to perform for the donations-only show. Former state Sen. Tom Hayden was the headliner, and his appearance drew a loyal following.

"I've been waiting for them to have a big demonstration," said mortgage broker Dorothy Keik. "I said, 'If you build it, they will come.' And they did. It's like the '60s all over again. Except, Bush is crazy."

The evening bore the telltale signs of its canyon community. The scent of patchouli lingered. One man carried a baby in a shoulder sling. A white Labrador nosed around the auditorium, seemingly independent of an owner. Ponytails were the dominant hairstyle. Actor John Savage sobbed audibly on stage as he recited the lyrics to John Lennon's song "Imagine." The antiwar protest in downtown Los Angeles earlier in the day was mentioned by several speakers as being a historically large crowd. Hayden said 30,000 walked the streets, while the organizers counted 15,000, and the police counted less than half that.

Signs posted near two computers in the house encouraged visitors to e-mail President Bush and Vice President Cheney. "Attacking Iraq will not solve our problem," read one message. Other signs requested donations for postage stamps to send protest letters to the White House. People signed a petition "strongly in favor of a diplomatic resolution of the conflict."

The leather fringe on Sarah Margolis' suede coat trembled as she admitted she was ambivalent about the war. The 31-year-old medical research assistant came to the rally "to hear other views that are not propagated by the [Bush] administration."

Clearly, she got what she came for from Hayden, whose presence at the podium drew a reverential silence from the audience. "He's adorable," whispered one woman as the turtlenecked Hayden took the stage.

Hayden blamed "the curse" of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone's death in a plane crash for the new Republican majority in Congress. He urged the crowd to contact House Democrats from California who "defected from the majority ... to vote for war." And he warned the peace-loving crowd to "get ready for the long haul."

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