Protesters prepare for Washington rally

January 13, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When you set out to rally for peace, questions large and small pop up.

Who will go? Where will you meet? How much should you tip the driver of the chartered bus?

Will you intentionally get arrested?

Members of West Virginia Peace, a fledgling anti-war group, talked about these details during a dinner meeting last week as they planned to march on Washington Saturday with hundreds of thousands of other protesters.

They're counting on one bus. They canceled a second bus because it required $510 up front that the group couldn't count on.


Group members hadn't picked a meeting place, and they agreed that they would take cell phones so they could keep in touch throughout the day.

No one was certain about the proper tip for the bus driver.

More importantly, no one expected to get arrested.

"The entire march is legal," said Margaret Bryant-Gainer, West Virginia Peace's co-coordinator.

Stepping off and speaking up is West Virginia Peace's way of wagging its collective fingers at President Bush and those poised to wage war against Iraq.

Others in the Tri-State area may share their views, but they aren't banding together like this Shepherdstown-based peace group, which meets about once a week, holds candlelight vigils, sponsors speakers and collects signatures for petitions.

Members have begun work on a peace-themed performing arts festival, with music and poetry, on the Shepherd College campus in April.

After finishing dinner at last Monday's meeting at the Blue Moon Cafe, group member Doug Cooper of Shepherdstown came up with an offbeat idea for the festival: interactive theater. There will be one take. Then, the second time around, the audience can change the story and the dialogue.

"We could have a skit with Bush and Saddam," he said. "People can say 'stop,' step in and act a different way. That would be a killer."

"I've been doing peace work since the late '60s, anti-Vietnam War," Cooper, who teaches education at Shepherd College, explained later. "It seems like people in power use ignorance to prove their own policies. Countering that ignorance is very important, providing people with information about what's going on. The mainstream media doesn't do a good job with the particulars.

"We need to work much more towards peace. We're so quick to use violence."

Bryant-Gainer said a gut feeling inspired her about 12 years ago to protest research on weapons of mass destruction at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. She got arrested.

"My conscience told me that what's taking place at Johns Hopkins - a place of healing and education - is wrong and many people are going to die from this," said Bryant-Gainer, who lives in Shepherdstown.

Over time, her activist spirit waned.

"I got married and I had children and kind of went to sleep," she said. "I had kind of a powerlessness. I fell into the everyday mode of just making it, which is typical of our culture."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the subsequent U.S. mission to stamp out terrorism and the threat of war against Iraq, "I've been waking up," Bryant-Gainer said.

"Whenever you talk about a military means of resolving conflicts, you're always talking about the mass killing of people. That's certain," she said.

West Virginia Peace formed in October. About 80 people went to Washington for a peace rally that month.

Well over 200 individuals and groups are on the mailing list.

Seven group members met over dinner last Monday.

One was Lynn Yellott, who lives outside Shepherdstown and marched against the Vietnam War in 1965. She said she remembers the anti-war movement then as slower to build than it has been today.

She was arrested about six years ago during a rally to support Diana Ortiz, a nun who was kidnapped, tortured and raped in Guatemala. Publicly questioning how much the United States knew about the brutality against her and others in Guatemala, Ortiz encouraged civil disobedience.

Asked last week if they were willing to be arrested in the future, group members differed.

Yellott, a librarian and human rights volunteer, said yes.

"I've thought about it a lot ..." she said. "I look at it strategically. If mass arrests would make a difference, in terms of policy, then yes."

Elise Woods, who lives near Martinsburg, W.Va., was the only one to flat-out reject the idea.

"There's no point in getting arrested ... I feel like I can't be very effective in jail," Woods said.

Her pacifism was passive when others were protesting the Vietnam War.

"I missed being a protester ... because I had babies," she said. "I was sorry to miss the (Martin Luther) King march and the anti-Vietnam march."

"It's not necessarily good that (now) I have a chance to do it," she added with a laugh.

She said she resolved in the 1970s that she would do everything she could to keep her children out of the military.

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