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Where Peace Won't Take a Hike

August 12, 1993|BEVERLY BEYETTE

With a big brush and great abandon, 8-year-old Elias Rocha splashed orange and pink paint on the Peace Mission--on its egg carton foundation, its spires of toilet paper rolls, its columns of ice cream cartons.

Then he stood back to admire Peace City, a Utopian model that had sprung from the collective imagination of 7- to 12-year-old summer campers.

Peace City had a multilevel garage with painted-on cars, a hotel, a peace history museum and a mayor's office (a recycled facial tissue box). But it had no jail, no police station.

After all, this is Peace Camp, where there's a message with the fun and games. Here, explained director Carol Cutler, kids learn more than arts and crafts. The Camp deals with both political issues--peace, justice, equality, the environment--and "with conflict in their everyday life."

Peace campers gather daily at one of six L.A. area sites. At East L.A. College in Monterey Park, site of Peace City, about 30 kids were learning about Cesar Chavez and his farm workers' crusade and were being introduced to non-competitive sports (the latter were not a huge hit).

When Peace Campers were treated to a video, it wasn't "Home Alone 2" or "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III" but a message film about the plight of grape pickers and the dangers of pesticides.

They watched, rapt.

Later, Philip Reyes, 10, suggested campers write to the President about poisoning of crops. Michael Taylor, an 11-year-old pragmatist, explained the reality: Some of the companies that make pesticides also fund their testing.

At break time, Marcia Berman led a sing-along: "I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the river side. . . . I ain't gonna study war no more." Most of the kids knew the words.

There was a song about how a great city is built--"Black hands, white hands, brown and tan, the working woman and the working man. . . ." Most of these campers were Latino, but there were black kids and white kids.

Teacher Linda Jimenez read aloud from a book about Chavez and La Causa . Then she told how, as a 10-year-old Mexican-American child in Texas, she'd hoed cotton for $5 a day.

And, she added, "My parents used to have to pay one dollar to vote." The children had learned about the poll tax.

The moral here is nonviolence: Marches, boycotts are OK if the cause is just. Killing is not.

Together, boys and girls stuffed won tons, wove on mini-looms.

One boy pronounced the no-winners-no-losers Frisbee toss "boring" and asked why they couldn't just play baseball. It's competitive, said teacher Ellen Lloyd. What if no one kept score? She'd think about that.

Peace Camp, a project of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, started in Northern California and came to Los Angeles in 1988. This summer, 300 youngsters ages 4 to 12 are taking part in six one-week sessions.

It's a place where feelings--joy, anger, sadness--are explored openly. At this session, a racist incident--name-calling--didn't get swept under the rug. It was talked out. Says Jimenez, "Kids know this is a really safe place where they are respected."

But only that Peace City model is Utopian (and it has been dismantled). Homelessness, violence and other urban realities are part of these children's lives. They have to be discussed.

Says Cutler, "We don't want our children to be maladapted to our society."

And when Cutler speaks of instilling "our values" in these youngsters, no one has to ask where she's coming from. Her T-shirt states: "In 1492 the Indians Discovered Christopher Columbus Lost at Sea."


Meanwhile, on a Saturday night in Burbank, about 150 invited guests showed up at the California K-9 Academy to sip champagne and munch lox and bagels while watching an attack dog try to sever a man's arm.

As partygoers trod a red carpet into the patio, menacing barks almost drowned out the band's peppy rendition of "The Girl From Ipanema." Cuban-born owner-trainer Howard Rodriguez really puts on the dog.

The idea, of course, was to sell trained attack dogs and, Rodriguez reports, three people--er--bit. The dogs, imported from Europe, carry price tags of $7,500 to $25,000, depending, he explains, on "the background, the breeding, the titles. . ."

So, the fear factor was served up with the pate.

As she warmed up the crowd, emcee Randy Johnson asked, "Does everybody feel, like, safe here?" Pause. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to own a gun. . ."

Publicity kits handed out at the door mentioned that Rodriguez has trained K-9 units for numerous police departments from Miami to Munich.

Enter Rodriguez and his Belgian Malinois, Ricky, which looks a lot like a German Shepherd and speaks German, not Flemish. " Paken! (Bite!)" he commanded. Ricky bounded across the patio, leaped up and tried to sink his teeth into trainer Werner Kebernik.

" Aus! (Out!)" commanded Rodriguez, and Ricky released Kebernik's left arm, which was protected by a shield. " Platz! " commanded Rodriguez, and Ricky sat down by his side. " Jawohl ," said Rodriguez, which, very loosely translated, means "good dog."

(So you don't speak German? No problem. In "precisely 30 days," Rodriguez promises, he can teach one of these dogs English. Some dogs speak Italian, Czech or Dutch).

As this was an L.A. happening, it had the obligatory sprinkling of celebrities. John Derek, with Bo, explained that they came because their dog, Hero, just doesn't have the right stuff: "He's menacing as hell looking, but he's sure not a hero."

Sally Kellerman, who had her two blond tots in tow, said, "We just lost our 15-year-old springer, Pinky, last week. We're going to get a dog for a pet--and protection."

As emcee Johnson said, "Every 10 seconds, there's a crime being committed here . . . "

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