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The Road to Peace : Veteran Anti-War Activists to Hit the Trail Once More in March to Washington

February 16, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

Miriam Newman, who celebrated her 63rd birthday the other day, plans to start out March 1 on a long walk.

With a couple of thousand other people, she intends to march clear across the country, from Los Angeles to Washington, about 3,250 miles.

The occasion is the "Great American Peace March" and the purpose, Newman said, is to "persuade the governments of the world to stop preparing for war."

Newman said she and other participants--including about 30 from the South Bay--expect more than a million people to eventually join a miles-long column that will wind into the nation's capital in mid-November.

Peace Network

A retired Social Security worker, Newman is one of a handful of South Bay anti-war activists who work to keep the peace movement's fires burning. In 1984, they banded together in the South Bay Peace Network, a loose-knit coalition of about 25 local, state and national groups.

They represent senior citizens, feminists, environmentalists, anti-hunger and civil rights organizations, educators, aerospace engineers, political clubs, church groups and other organizations with special interests.

Each group has its own social, economic or political agenda but all share a concern over the threat of nuclear war. Most express resentment over the nation's huge expenditures for military defense.

"There is so much money going for waste and destruction these days," said Anne Trojan, a 70-year-old Hawthorne member of the Gray Panthers, which is affiliated with the network. "As a result, the elderly must live in fear because there's nothing left for things like health and housing and keeping the cost of utilities down."

Activists say the South Bay network has up to 2,000 members, but they acknowledge that a much smaller number of regulars--their own estimates range from 30 to 200--carry on the basic chores of the coalition.

For key leaders, that means endless hours of attending meetings, organizing petition drives, preparing newsletters, keeping in touch with current members and recruiting new people to replace those who drift away, said Jon Mercant, a 35-year-old Redondo Beach attorney who helped organize the network.

He said most of the recruiting is done through personal contacts and newspaper ads and at special meetings arranged to hear discussions of current issues, such as the nuclear freeze, apartheid in South Africa and U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.

Sanctuary Movement

The sanctuary movement, which seeks to shelter illegal immigrants from Central America, generally gets the biggest turnouts at church-affiliated gatherings, Mercant said.

"We believe that all of these things are related to the central issue of preventing a nuclear war," he said. "A conflict in some small country could be the deadly connection that triggers a fatal confrontation between the superpowers."

Newman was among half a dozen South Bay activists who joined a monthlong demonstration at the Nevada underground nuclear test site in November. The project, which attracted activists from throughout Southern California, was staged to call attention to demands for a bilateral nuclear weapons freeze before the Reagan-Gorbachev conference in Geneva.

"If we really believe in something, we have to put our bodies where they can do the most good," said Newman, who lives in Redondo Beach. "I felt it was important for me to join with others in making a statement against continued testing of these weapons."

Newman reasons that an end to testing would stop the development of bigger and more sophisticated weapons, leaving existing weapons to grow old and unreliable--and thus, she believes, less likely to be used.

She said worries about atmospheric testing in the early 1960s prompted her to become involved in the peace movement. "I'd just had my third child," she said, "and there were all these articles saying that strontium 90 (from nuclear fallout) was getting into the food chain and preparing a terrible legacy for future generations."

Anti-War Campaigners

Like Newman, most of the South Bay activists are veterans of campaigns dating back to the heyday of the anti-war movement in the 1960s and earlier. And, inevitably, they are older.

"When I go to a meeting now and look around, I see that most of the people are at least as old as I am," said Jay Johnson, a 43-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes clothing salesman and a longtime activist in Democratic and peace politics. "We've also turned into mostly middle-class, mainstream types."

To attract more young people to the movement, the network puts up posters in libraries and schools, offers speakers for meetings of youth groups and participates in community fairs. One of the network organizations, the South Bay Interfaith Peace Committee, is sponsoring a World Peace Essay Contest in which grade-school children are asked to reflect on the meaning of war.

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