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1,400 Protest Conference on Defense : Berrigan Leads Anti-Nuclear Vigil at Hotel

February 13, 1985|RAY PEREZ | Times Staff Writer

About 1,400 people, most of them carrying candles and placards with anti-nuclear slogans, surrounded a Costa Mesa hotel Tuesday night in a vigil to protest an annual gathering of military and defense industry representatives to plan future weapons programs.

The mostly silent vigil around the plush Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, which proceeded without incident, was led by Father Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest who has devoted most of his life to anti-war protests. The protest attracted anti-nuclear demonstrators from most of Southern California, including a strong contingent of elderly people, students and children.

'War No More'

The anti-nuclear protesters dotted a five-block perimeter of the hotel. Some chanted "War no more, heal the earth," while others simply waved their candles and placards at passing motorists. A few others--dressed in masks, fatigues and old military uniforms parodied the conference participants with a variety of informal skits.

About 300 defense industry and Pentagon officials are staying at the hotel this week as they attend the 26th annual Winter Convention on Aerospace and Electronic Systems (WINCON) at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro. The convention, whose proceedings are closed to the public and highly classified, is expected to focus on the future course of the nation's defense industry.

The two-hour demonstration was countered by about 60 members of the American Independent Party and other conservative organizations. A score of police monitored the two groups, but less than halfway through the vigil the counter-demonstrators had dwindled to no more than a dozen.

'Redefining Orange County'

Tim Carpenter, spokesman for the Alliance for Survival, which orchestrated the protest, said the turnout was almost triple the 500 protesters who participated last year at the same hotel.

"I think we are redefining Orange County. People should see now that there is a peace movement here," Carpenter said.

The alliance will picket the hotel this morning in hopes of stopping the buses taking the WINCON delegates to the air base. Costa Mesa police officers will be on the scene to arrest any protesters who might block the driveway leading out of the hotel.

The protesters who converged on the hotel Tuesday night included hundreds who were bused to Orange County from all over the area, including a contingent of 40 from the San Fernando Valley.

'Marvelous for the Children'

Berrigan, who was convicted of destroying federal property in a 1968 raid on a draft board office in Maryland and is appealing a 1981 conviction in Pennsylvania for trying to destroy property at a nuclear weapons research facility, said the 1,400 persons who participated in the vigil demonstrated the concern of U.S. buildup of nuclear arms.

"I also think it is marvelous for the children," Berrigan said. "There are so many people who have brought their children and that is a good sign."

The vigil was almost totally devoid of any confrontation between the anti-nuclear protesters and the conservatives. Police quickly quelled a developing quarrel when one of the conservatives began shouting obscenities.

Iris Shidler of San Bernardino, the statewide head of the women's section of the American Independent Party, said she made the trip to Orange County to show support for America's strong defense plan.

"I'll be 60 next month and it isn't easy to stand here," Shidler said. "But I am here to try to teach these people about freedom. The main communist thrust is to render both (national political) parties impotent."

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