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Profile: Peace Groups Around the U.S. Ready for Demonstrating Almost Immediately Should War in Iraq Break Out

Weekend Edition Sunday: March 2, 2003

Peace Groups Plan Anti-War Demonstrations


UN weapons inspectors today said Iraq is destroying six more Al Samoud missiles. Four of the medium-range missiles were crushed yesterday. The White House characterized the destruction of the missiles as a game of deception. And in Turkey, the parliament on Saturday rejected a motion to allow the United States to place troops on Turkish soil in preparation for a possible war with Iraq. The Turkish public is overwhelmingly anti-war, and while the lawmakers were debating, 50,000 protesters marched in Ankara.

In the United States, peace groups are mobilizing their own forces for massive protests should hostilities begin. Anti-war organizations have detailed logistical plans to take to the streets on any day of the invasion. And some groups are already hoping to shut down traffic and commerce in major cities. NPR's Robert Smith reports.

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

On Internet sites, on fliers and posters, anti-war groups are telling their members to prepare for the event they've been trying to stop. Megan Cornish is with the No War Against Iraq Coalition in Seattle.

Ms. MEGAN CORNISH (No War Against Iraq Coalition): I'd love to see us stop the war now and be able to go `Hurrah!' and have a great huge celebration. And, you know, maybe we will. But meanwhile we have to make plans for if we don't because the indications are that nobody's listening in the White House.

SMITH: And so the focus is starting to shift from preventing a possible war to stopping a real one. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is with one of the largest anti-war groups, the ANSWER coalition. She says there's a lot of frustration building up in the peace movement, and if war begins, they'll provide events to focus that anger.

Ms. MARA VERHAYDEN-HILLIARD (ANSWER Coalition): On the day that a new US war on Iraq would start, there will be emergency protests in central locations in cities and communities all around the country at 5 PM. And the morning after, people are being called on to organize walkouts from their school, from work, to leave their home. And that's a call of the ANSWER coalition.

SMITH: In DC, protests will converge on the White House; in New York, on Times Square. Atlanta, Chicago, Denver all have protest locations chosen and times set. In Seattle, the war planning has filtered down to the grassroots neighborhood peace groups.


SMITH: Every Wednesday night, a group of about 50 people in the Ballard, neighborhood of Seattle have their own honk-and-wave protest against war in Iraq. Vicky Opperman says all the protests so far may not have prevented a war, but they have emboldened her and her neighbors. Should war start, she and her friends are heading to the center of the city.

Ms. VICKY OPPERMAN (Opposes War in Iraq): I will probably be downtown for seven days, probably get arrested if that needs to happen, and we're all kind of talking to each other, trying to figure out what we want to do. We're really doing this as a group.

SMITH: E-mail lists have been set up in this and about 90 other neighborhood groups in Seattle. They can turn out thousands of people, they say, with very little notice. And that does pose a logistical issue. Most of the major anti-war protests have happened on weekends with pre-approved permits and months to plan. With less than 24 hours notice should the US go to war, peace groups have been trying to get things like security and bathroom facilities ready in advance. Ellen Bovarnick is with the Seattle-based Sound Nonviolent Opponents to War.

Ms. ELLEN BOVARNICK (Sound Nonviolent Opponents to War): We need to think about, of course, the stage and the sound equipment and the porta-potties and the medical care and communications between people on the ground. We've worked a lot with the police department to make sure that our logistics are in concert with what they think is appropriate.

SMITH: Bovarnick says their main concern is to make sure the protests are non-violent and a safe place for families to share their feelings about the start of a war. But the peace movement isn't homogeneous. Some groups want a more confrontational stance. Around Seattle, an anarchist group has put up posters calling for vandalism of traffic signs and gas pumps should the US start bombing Baghdad. In San Francisco, a group called Direct Action is mobilizing protesters to block specific intersections and corporate buildings downtown. David Solnit plans to take part in the civil disobedience.

Mr. DAVID SOLNIT (Opposes War in Iraq): So part of it is we want to act as a deterrent and let the government consider that one additional cost of going to war will be non-violent civil unrest and that they may for a day or a few days or a week lose control of some major cities and that commerce may stop in some financial districts.

SMITH: The police in San Francisco say they are aware of the plans and can handle such protests. In Seattle, police, wary of another confrontation like the WTO protests a couple of years ago, say they've been working with organizers to keep any new demonstrations safe and legal. Duane Fish, a spokesperson for the Seattle Police Department, says he expects 99.9 percent of the protesters to be peaceful. And for those who are not?

Mr. DUANE FISH (Seattle Police Department Spokesman): It's our job to remove them from the situation to ensure safety of everybody, to include the other demonstrators.

SMITH: But he does warn that should the war start on a weekday, rush-hour protests will likely lead to massive traffic congestion. One anti-war group says they'll be ready with tea and snacks for any commuters trapped in their cars when the marchers hit the streets. Robert Smith, NPR News, Seattle.

WERTHEIMER: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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