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U.S. Peace Movement Energized by Deadline, Plans a Wave of Protests : Dissent: Organizers in Los Angeles and around the country find new urgency to their cause.


The failure of talks between the United States and Iraq and the impending war powers vote in Congress have energized the nation's peace movement, which is preparing a wave of protests in hopes of halting the march to combat.

Organizers predict that tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators across the nation--from flag-burning radicals to flag-waving military families--will participate in a series of sit-ins, prayer services, candlelight vigils, marches and acts of civil disobedience in coming days.

Congress is an immediate target of the activists. Efforts to persuade members of Congress to withhold support for a military strike range from simple phone calls to a sit-in planned today in the Los Angeles field office of Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), who has stated his support for using force against Iraq.

"We need to take the message to him and others who stood with us who now seem unsure about their moral fortitude," said Carl Rogers, co-founder of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Organizers say that the approach of Tuesday's U.N.-imposed deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait has added urgency to their cause. They predict that demonstrations that so far have involved hundreds of participants will attract thousands, especially if combat begins.

In Los Angeles, anti-war activists have organized a demonstration Saturday; an interfaith service Sunday bringing together Christians, Jews and Muslims; a candlelight vigil Monday night, and a 12-hour "Countdown to War" rally Tuesday. Organizers hope these events will build momentum for a national "day of demonstrations" on Jan. 19.

On that Saturday, anti-war marches are planned in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, New York and dozens of other cities, said Dianne Mathiowetz, an organizer with the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East.

If war starts, "it will multiply 100 times over," Mathiowetz said. "The militancy of (protests) will increase in the proportion of the devastation this war causes."

Another "day of demonstrations" is being organized for Jan. 26 by a second national umbrella organization of anti-war groups, the New York-based National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East.

"People are really getting fearful," agreed Ahmed Nassef, an organizer with the Los Angeles Coalition Against U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. "We were in the office until 11 p.m. last night, and the calls kept coming in."

The latest survey--by the Washington Post-ABC News Poll--found that more than six of 10 Americans support war if Iraq does not withdraw from Kuwait by Tuesday's deadline.

One of the boldest initiatives involves a group of 11 American activists planning to leave Saturday for the Persian Gulf to join an international anti-war contingent camped out on the Iraqi side of the border between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

The activists form part of the Gulf Peace Team, a newly formed London-based organization that on Christmas Eve pitched Bedouin-style tents in the desert, poised strategically between the two opposing armies. About 25 people from more than a dozen countries are in the camp now. The 11 who will leave Saturday are undergoing intensive preparations in Boston, including desert survival and nonviolence training.

"Everyone is aware there's a good possibility they may not come back alive--they are that committed," said Sandra Nall, a volunteer with the Gulf Peace Team's U.S. office in Putney, Vt. "They are as dedicated to peace as they can possibly be."

The group will fly to Amman, Jordan, on Saturday and then travel either to Baghdad or directly to the encampment, about one mile inside Iraq.

The nation's anti-war movement reflects a wide spectrum of people and political agendas. The Los Angeles Coalition includes members of groups that pushed for such disparate causes as human rights in Central America and funding for AIDS research, as well as clerics, Communists and libertarians.

For many, the birthdate of civil rights leader and peace activist Martin Luther King Jr. this Tuesday--coincidentally the date the United Nations chose as the deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait--has become a symbolic rallying point. "Like King did with Vietnam, we're trying to make that connection between war and racism and justice at home," organizer Mathiowetz said.

In many ways, the movement reflects an effort to graft anti-war sentiments with social agendas, arguing that billions of dollars devoted to war would be better spent on education, housing, health care and other social programs that were curtailed during the Reagan Administration.

According to Rogers of the veterans group, "wisdom" is the key difference between anti-war activists today and those who marched against the Vietnam War. "The peace movement that's been in the streets this time is my age," said Rogers, 47.

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