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Show draws from all walks

January 15, 2003|Hilary E. MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

There is an alternative universe beyond the Bush Worldview. It flares up on street corners and in cafes, and it's not just peopled by Martin Sheen and Arianna Huffington.

It's peopled by university professors, wealthy Westsiders, artists with green hair, families, kids from Crossroads School and veteran peaceniks, all of whom showed up at a new exhibit of political posters and temporarily transformed a Santa Monica gallery into another antiwar hotspot. The typical chic art crowd stood shoulder to shoulder with scruffier activist types.

"The Anti-War Show," at the trendy Track 16 gallery at Bergamot Station, was put together in a mere six weeks, in reaction to the Bush administration's push for war in Iraq, the organizers said. But the superb timing of the opening Saturday night -- just hours after thousands of demonstrators marched downtown to protest the military build-up in the Middle East -- was purely coincidental.

The posters protesting the Vietnam War seemed to reignite the passions of an earlier generation. A father and young son stood before a 1970 poster of My Lai, where American soldiers massacred more than 300 apparently unarmed women, children and the elderly. The poster showed a pile of bloody women and babies, slaughtered on a dirt road through a rice paddy. At the top, in red New York Times font, the poster read: "Q: And Babies?" And at the bottom: "A: And Babies."

"It's hard to imagine how shocked people were to see that," the father said to his son, as they stared at the carnage. Some of the children in the picture were the boy's age.

"That used to hang in our house," said Esme Watson, pointing to Lorraine Schneider's "War is not healthy for children and other living things," a classic from 1968. "And we had that, too," she said, pointing to a poster for a rally in Washington. "We marched in that demonstration."

Gerald Dorfman, a professor of political science at Stanford University, in town to celebrate his brother's birthday, saw a poster that catapulted him down memory lane. It was a street poster for a march in Washington, D.C., on October 21, 1967 -- a day that changed his life.

"I was at the State Department in 1967," he said. As the lowest man on the totem pole, he was sent to bring in some of the marchers to talk to his superiors. He spent his days reading top secret cables from Vietnam. That afternoon he listened in horror as his superiors tried to assuage the angry protesters.

"I changed my mind about the war because we were lying to people," he said.

In a room full of Persian Gulf War and post-9/11 posters, two women wore necklaces of giant pretzels, an allusion to President Bush's embarrassing choking incident. (Some people thought the pretzels were peace signs, they said.) They had come from the downtown rally, with a stop for margaritas en route.

One of the women, Bianca Kovar, wore a T-shirt that could have hung in the exhibit. On the front: a reference to the president as a "weenie" and a felt-tip rendition of Dubya's cowboy boots. On the back: "No Mo' Whitey Imperialist War."

The two were still flying on protest energy. They had hung a banner over a downtown overpass during the demonstration, and they wanted to talk about it.

"We had so much support from the people on the freeways," said Kovar. "From semis and compacts. They were all honking their horns."

"We got a few fingers, too," threw in friend Jeannine Thorpe.

The women said they saw a lot of the same posters during the protest a few hours earlier. One showed a sad-eyed Iraqi girl missing a limb. It read: "Are you willing to kill her to get Saddam?" In small print at the bottom it read: "A bomb dropped by a U.S. plane blew off this little girl's arm."

"The movement is already building its own war vernacular," said Kovar.

Back among the Vietnam posters, Cameron Rath, a shaggy-haired teenager who looked like he had stepped out of a '60s love-in, hawked $15 T-shirts out of a gym bag. (He swore he wasn't part of the exhibit.)

His father stood by proudly as Cameron, 14, fielded questions from curious adults and veteran protesters, delighted to see a little youthful activism in the flesh.

The T-shirts are printed with Bush's face and cartoon bubble puns and quotes, such as, "I don't think we are in Kansasistan anymore," and "This is still a dangerous world ....It's a world of madmen and uncertainty and potential mental losses" (the latter an actual Bushism).

Rath said he has tried to sell his T-shirts on the Venice Beach boardwalk. He's gotten a lot of interest but not much money -- people are too poor. But at Track 16 he found his marketing niche.

On the other side of the room, Professor Dorfman and his wife paused in front of a 1991 poster that said simply: "IRAQ," the Q drawn as a barrel spilling a pool of inky oil down the expanse of paper. At the bottom it said: "Why?"

This poster, from the first Persian Gulf War, was his favorite.

"It asks the question 'Why,' " he said. "That is the question."

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