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Women Take a Leading Role in Protesting Against War With Iraq

March 15, 2003|Anne-Marie O'Connor | Times Staff Writer

In a Venice bungalow crowded with people who oppose the looming conflict with Iraq, longtime activist Jodie Evans was ticking off a list of potential antiwar actions.

Would Thursday be a good day for everyone to crowd into the Los Angeles offices of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and deliver a "pink slip" for not doing enough to prevent war with Iraq?

What about a pink carpet outside the Academy Awards on March 23 or smuggling pink umbrellas into the fan bleachers where they would be seen by millions on television?

Evans, a onetime campaign manager for former Gov. Jerry Brown, is one of a number of people working full time with one goal: to stop the war on Iraq before it begins. The 30 people at her house Thursday night were thinking pink -- the name of this national movement is Code Pink -- because the color is being used to symbolize women-led opposition to the war.

Code Pink is one of dozens of groups joining weekend protests in the Southland that will include a downtown Los Angeles march featuring Jesse Jackson and Arianna Huffington today and candlelight vigils Sunday in such communities as Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge, Sierra Madre and Laguna Beach. Other protests will be taking place across the country.

This week, people are meeting around the country in homes like Evans' to try to sway the debate over an attack on Iraq. They're planning vigils, prayer breakfasts and grass-roots public forums in an attempt to affect the issue, far from the White House, the United Nations, or even the network news.

For full-time antiwar activists like Evans, history begins in her living room.

"We don't want the bombs to fall, and that's what this is all about," Evans, a 48-year-old mother of three, told the activists, including a handful of men. They crowded into a living room lined with bookshelves and Eastern art, many of them sitting on the floor.

"The bombs were going to fall in December, January, then February. I think we're succeeding," she said. "Women are answering this call. Women are going to stop this war."

Longtime Activist

Evans is a dynamic redhead whose involvement with social issues has led her everywhere from Jerry Brown's Cabinet to documentary film to the "shadow conventions" that provided a populist alternative to the 2000 political conventions. Now she and her fellow activists, such as Medea Benjamin, head of San Francisco-based Global Exchange, have put other things on hold to focus on the threat of war.

Code Pink -- a play on President Bush's "Code Red" security warning system, as well as a reference to the alert that hospitals use to signal a missing baby -- coalesced at a meeting of longtime female activists in Ojai in May.

The movement has grown rapidly as plans have mounted for war, with a Web site -- www.codepink4peace.org -- maintained by Evans and Pilar Perez, who runs a publishing house, Perceval Press, with actor Viggo Mortensen.

White House Vigil

"It just kept coalescing and growing and expanding," Perez said. "We didn't know it would mobilize into a full-fledged organization."

The group has held a vigil outside the White House since Nov. 17. According to one alternative press bible, the Utne Reader -- which features a Code Pink button on its current cover -- White House political strategist Karl Rove has remarked: "You pink ladies are everywhere -- didn't I see you in Salt Lake City last week?"

They've also demonstrated in such cities as Anchorage; San Francisco; New York; Portland, Maine; Lincoln, Neb.; and Shreveport, La.

Twenty-five Code Pink members were arrested at a Washington demonstration last Saturday when they refused National Park Service orders to leave the pedestrian mall in front of the White House, where they chanted "Peace, not war" and "Bush says code red, we say code pink." Among the speakers there were authors Alice Walker and Maxine Hong Kingston and nuclear disarmament activist Helen Caldicott.

Sen. Feinstein already has received one pink slip, although her spokesman tried to placate Code Pink by telling its members that, of 50,000 calls her office has received on the war, 48,000 were against it.

On March 7, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) got one of their pink slips -- a piece of lingerie. The senator walked out on the group when Evans tore off the full-length pink slip she was wearing and handed it to Clinton.

"I am the senator from New York," Clinton said, "and I will not put the people's security at risk."

Many of the women gathered at Evans' house are wearing pink. They've got bags full of pink laundry twine, or pink dusters that can be used as props in the street theater of antiwar activism.

Many of them, years ago, protested the war in Vietnam, and they are openly excited at the renewed sense of common purpose and unity they share.

"We are having a worldwide conversation about peace for the first time in history," said Sand Brim, owner of the Culture Shop on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. "We have to look at this positively. This is a wonderful time to be alive."

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