Saturday, February 15, 2003

Local peace groups spreading wings

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The escalating threat of war with Iraq has galvanized a broad range of Cincinnatians who are writing letters, attending forums and holding signs in the cold for peace.

[photo] Promoting peace: Cecilia Kloecker of Blue Ash, representing the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center on 14th Street, prepares literature and yards signs during the "Love, Not War Showcase" Friday at St. John's Unitarian Church in Clifton.
(Tony Jones photo)
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No fewer than a dozen grass-roots organizations involving full-time moms, high school students, artists, doctors and even conservatives are popping up across the Tristate to join the rosters of longtime antiwar activists in voicing their opposition. An umbrella group called the Coalition to Prevent War in Iraq represents an estimated 750 to 1,000 people involved in member organizations such as Moms and Dads for Peace and Holding Hands for Peace.

As the White House presses the United Nations to disarm a country that President Bush has linked to al-Qaida, millions across the globe - from Chicago to Cape Town, South Africa - are expected to march today in what has been billed as the world's largest protest.

Some are heading to New York for a protest organized by a national group called United for Peace and Justice, and others are writing to state representatives and organizing their own rallies in Cincinnati.

[photo] Prayer service: Moeller High School sophomore Nathan Kmetz prays Thursday for peace and for soldiers and civilians in the event of war with Iraq.
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The number of Greater Cincinnatians opposed to military action in Iraq is hard to tabulate. There isn't one prominent organizing institution, only a collection of loosely knit groups.

Activists belong to long e-mail lists and keep up to date on events internationally through the Web.

Some let yard signs do the talking. Others fear people won't patronize their shops if they speak out, so they only swap opinions with neighbors. And some, such as Fred Heyse, a 60-year-old Anderson Township resident, are busily working to convince others that war isn't the answer, but prefer not to be labeled activists at all.

Heyse says he's no pacifist. And while he is convinced that Saddam is a "bad guy, that does not mean we go in and obliterate Baghdad with all the bombs we can muster."

"I've never been involved before," said Richard Eisele, a 64-year-old retiree from Mount Healthy who describes himself as an independent voter.

"This is not a '60s protest. The diversity in this movement is unbelievable. There are people on the far right and on the far left and all in between.

"I go to my barber and he's against the war. I go to my mechanic and he's against it. I talk to my waitress and she's against the war. These are not long-haired hippies. They are regular people."

What: Perspectives Against the War rally.
When: 4:30 p.m. today. Where: Fountain Square.
Information: The Web site offers details about upcoming peace-related events in the Tristate.
The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 66 percent of Americans support U.S. military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power, while 31 percent are opposed. About 59 percent say it's more important for the United States to gain international support, even if that delays military action against Iraq.

Jenni McCauley, a real estate saleswoman from Wyoming, says military force needs to be used. The protesters, she says, are na‘ve.

"It's sad because those who are in the military are willing to give up their lives to protect us," she said. "My son is one of them, and there are thousands of others. A lot of those people are not recognizing that, are not appreciating that.

"There are not many of those protesters who would make that sacrifice."

But longtime activists say they knew the anti-war sentiment was building in the Queen City long before Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his case to the United Nations earlier this month.

The biggest sign, they say, was when more than 2,000 people convened outside the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal in October to protest President Bush when he spoke to the nation, calling for military action to take out the "murderous tyrant."

"I think the present movement is much stronger and deeper than the Vietnam anti-war movement," said Father Ben Urmston, director of peace and justice programs at Xavier University. "It's not a majority to be sure, but it's a significant minority which won't go away and won't be bamboozled by the present administration nor the one-sided coverage in the media."

So many Greater Cincinnatians were interested in activism after the protest against Bush's speech that Sayrah Namaste, a Walnut Hills woman who has been involved in peace issues for about seven years, created the anti-war umbrella organization called the Coalition to Prevent War in Iraq.

The coalition's Web site keeps up with the planned events, letter-writing campaigns and petition drives organized by groups across the Tristate. A local group called Women in Black holds a weekly silent vigil to protest wars throughout the world, for example. And Moms and Dads for Peace reaches out to families at events and in neighborhoods. There's even a weapons study group that meets every other Wednesday.

On Friday night, the group hosted a community arts showcase at St. John's Unitarian Church in Clifton to promote peace and serve as a sendoff for the bus with 50 people headed to the New York protest.

Reasons people offer for participation run the gamut:

• Insufficient evidence to support military action.

• The bully image the United States is creating for itself.

• Civilian and military casualties.

• Too much focus on foreign policy rather than domestic issues.

Beverly Palmer is a 50-year-old sales/territory manager for a wall covering and textile company. She organized an event in January with friends in her Hyde Park neighborhood called Holding Hands for Peace. About 65 people meet every Sunday during February to hold hands along Erie Avenue.

She has always been an advocate for peace, she said, but never organized any event until now.

"I'm at a point in my life that I can't shut my door in my little house in Hyde Park and say, `Life is good as long as life is good for me.' We can't turn our backs on the rest of the world."

For moderate Republicans such as Larry Keller, a lawyer from Kenwood, opposition to the war is in direct conflict with how he felt as a high school graduate in 1969 during the Vietnam War era.

"My feeling was that if I was drafted, I would serve," the 51-year-old said. "I supported my country 100 percent then, but I now know our leaders aren't always right. I don't think it's anti-American or even anti-Republican to exercise First Amendment privileges of free speech and to oppose a war that is in contravention of international law."

The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, a stalwart in local peace and justice issues since 1987, has seen a boom in interest in recent months from people such as Keller.

Its "peace database" has jumped from 50 to more than 500 names since Bush's speech, and phones continue to ring, said staff member Kristen Barker.

Some of the same people are petitioning Cincinnati City Hall to pass a resolution to become one of dozens of cities opposing the war.

But there are also people such as Monica Lonnemann, a 34-year-old mother from Villa Hills.

She does not hide her opposition. She has been part of a church group that discusses peace and justice issues for five years but never got active.

Now, she is writing letters to state representatives and to the White House to oppose the war.

"I just don't see how us going to war is going to solve any of the problems," she said. "The basis for me being against the war is a moral one, a Christian one. When Jesus walked the earth, he talked about nonviolence.

"This is not going to hurt Saddam Hussein and the people in power. It's going to hurt moms like me and children."

For those who do want to make their views visibly known, people are gathering at 4:30 p.m. today on Fountain Square to coincide with the rally in New York.

Penelope Welz, 55, a self-employed writer from Winton Place, said the events across the world this weekend are critical in the effort to stop any military action against Iraq.

"As Bush keeps saying: `Time is running out.' The urgency to stop this is building."

John Johnston contributed to this report.


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