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Last man makes a stand for peace at Hollywood and Sunset

Steve Sharp, 63, is the lone pacifist on Friday nights at a Los Feliz corner. 'Swords into ploughshares is what I'm for,' he says.

August 08, 2011|Kurt Streeter
  • Steve Sharp, 63, spends most Friday evenings at Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, calling for peace. There were other protesters when he began in 2002, but now he is the last man standing.
Steve Sharp, 63, spends most Friday evenings at Hollywood and Sunset boulevards,… (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles…)

"It's a cacophony out here tonight!" says Steve Sharp, a solitary man thrusting a sign to the sky as he stands on a corner where Hollywood and Sunset boulevards meet. "People are going crazy for what this is about! Peace! Peace!"

He spins, light on his 63-year-old feet. He jumps, legs splayed, sweat spraying from his brow. When a traffic signal turns red, he pauses. When it flashes green, it's go, go, go, a river of cars passing by, Sharp cajoling each one: "Come on, come on, come on, show me some love!"

Someone in an old Ford Pinto yells his approval. Someone in an SUV is another fan: Beeeep! Beeeep! Every now and again, no surprise, a driver unfurls at Sharp the middle-finger salute. You gotta love them too, he says, everyone's welcome on this train and there's no stopping it now.

"Southbound, honk for me southbound traffic, come on, let's hear it!"

Sharp is a true believer. A believer in humanity despite humanity's sordid foibles and angry edges. A believer, more pressing given the historical moment, in the notion that wars must end, particularly the ones American soldiers are fighting in now.

He is also a stalwart. Other than the few times he's been away on vacation or simply too sick, he has made his way to this Los Feliz sidewalk every Friday night since 2002. There, 40 paces west of the Vista Theater, he becomes an idealistic street barker whose sole prop is his big white sign. One side reads: "Celebrate Peace." The other: "Spread Love."

"At the start, I had a sign that was a little more provocative: Please Don't Rain Fire on Innocent Children," he says matter-of-factly. "But I didn't like being that much in people's faces.... That was then. A lot of things have changed on this corner over the years."

Sharp, who trains insurance adjusters for a living, first came to this corner after he and his wife joined a group protesting President George W. Bush's preparations to deploy troops to Afghanistan. He says he was a conscientious objector during Vietnam and sees war as a choice. Still, he professes to be shy and says he never would have protested on this street corner alone, preferring to blend in with a large group.

Back then, blending in was easy. On Friday evenings at Hollywood and Sunset, just as at intersections across the nation, scores of boisterous antiwar protesters would gather.

"The vibe was beautiful," says Sharp, who grew up in a small Pennsylvania town and who, in his conservative tie and insurer's haircut, looks the part of an American everyman. "But Bush went into Afghanistan, Bush went into Iraq, the crowds that used to be 50 people, well, people got discouraged and depressed."

They got so discouraged and so depressed that about four or five years ago the demonstrations at the Los Feliz intersection dwindled all the way down to one person: Sharp.

"I'm the last man standing," he says, perplexed. "I guess what helped me keep going was I had low expectations from the start. I knew I was just doing my small part and this wasn't going to change the world all at once.... All I want is to get people to think a little. It's become a ritual now.... I admit, half the time coming here I'm jazzed, half the time, frankly, it's a pain… but I keep coming."

The intersection still hums with bleating cars and occasional bellows from the rolled-down windows of passing cars. An old man gives a supportive shout. A little girl yells, "My mommy says you're great!"

Sharp steps back, swills from a water bottle and offers some opinions.

Politics?

"Nobody speaks the truth, man. Right now, somebody who comes up with a positive vision doesn't stand a chance.... The right-wingers, they're just so malevolent, jeez."

Religion?

"So much of it is about war and aggression, you know, 'Onward Christian Soldier!' Uh, obviously that's just not a good thing for the world."

The military?

"We should turn the military into a peacekeeping force, build infrastructure in the countries we bombed.... Swords into ploughshares is what I'm for.... We're just so close to having a global consciousness of peace — our leaders just keep screwing it up."

Sharp says there have always been more positive reactions on the corner than negative ones — far more. But early on, when the White House was lathering a national frenzy over weapons of mass destruction, open hostility was common. One night, Sharp counted 19 middle fingers thrust his way. Sometimes people threw bottles at him from their cars. A man walked up and said he was a military veteran, a black belt who could kill Sharp without a sweat. "I told him, 'Hey, I'm a no-belt, it's cool.' I thanked him for his service, and then I walked away."

Times are different these days. Angry gestures come only once or twice a night. People occasionally snort that the last man standing is flat-out wrong. But mostly the skeptics just watch quietly from the sidewalk or inside their cars, bewildered, bemused or maybe simply fatigued by foreign fighting and domestic woe.

One of them watches Sharp right now. He's an elderly man in a beaten cap and a tattered shirt, leaning against a wall at the corner.

"What a character this guy is," says P.J., who won't give his last name and who appears to be quite a character himself. "You gotta like his overall message, but we got a lot of enemies. People want us dead and they're talking global jihad. We shouldn't war against those guys? Just believe in peace and it's all gonna be OK? I'm sorry, that ain't gonna work."

Sharp is too busy to notice P.J. — a red light on Sunset is about to turn green.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" he yells. "Westbound traffic, talk to me! Peace, baby! Peace!"

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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