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War protests make for strange bedfellows
San Francisco Chronicle


September 23, 2005
Friday PM

Organizers expect more than 100,000 people to gather Saturday on the grounds of the Washington Monument, the centerpiece of a three-day weekend of anti-war events that will include interfaith services Sunday, and civil disobedience acts and congressional lobbying Monday.

However, groups backing the effort don't necessarily agree with each other on issues other than Iraq.

With a formality unusual for the anti-war movement, the two main groups organizing Saturday's demonstration have signed a three-page agreement covering everything from who will hold the lead parade banner to how big protesters' placards can be (3 feet by 3 1/2 feet).

In a reference to past political differences, mainly over the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, the pact signed by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice also says, "Between now and the end of the demonstration on Sept. 24, each coalition agrees not to attack the other coalition."

Some of the 1,200 religious and community groups under the United for Peace and Justice umbrella have expressed discomfort with International ANSWER's critiques of Israel. Moderates in the anti-war movement - and right-wing commentators including Rush Limbaugh - talk about the group's origins with socialist Workers World Party and how International ANSWER members have defended Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and Kim Jong Il of North Korea.

International ANSWER's defenders say the charges are little more than red-baiting and an attempt to discredit the organization that coordinated anti-war street demonstrations for months before the March 2003 invasion.

The group's Richard Becker downplayed political differences among International ANSWER's cohorts on the left, saying, "That's behind us now." United for Peace spokesman Bill Dobbs agreed, saying the demonstration protocols don't matter to anybody outside the media.

But others say the qualifiers are partially a response to conservative critics, who have long said the anti-war movement is led by far-left forces out of touch with moderate Americans.

Last month, critics tried to discredit Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville activist who camped outside President Bush's vacation ranch in a vain attempt to meet with him, by citing her affiliations with activist organizations such as Code Pink. Members of the group led disruptions of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, and the conservative Web site blasted their recent vigil outside Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, D.C., as an attempt "to manipulate wounded soldiers." Code Pink said it was trying to get more aid for returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Criticisms of activists' associations are rooted in a fundamental red and blue political divide: Liberal-led demonstrations often are filled with supporters advocating a variety of causes in an effort to show how the issues are interrelated. That's why International ANSWER insisted on ground rules for Saturday's demonstration allowing signage linking the Iraq war to "the colonial occupation of Palestine, the occupation of Haiti and other anti-imperialist positions."

United for Peace will focus its signage solely on the war.

Conservatives insist that by participating in such a demonstration, marchers endorse the views of those next to them.

"People should be careful of the company they keep in these marches," said Kristinn Taylor, an organizer with "The question I always ask is, 'If the Klu Klux Klan led an anti-war demonstration, would you march in it?' "

Other political disclaimers are aimed at bringing more moderate Americans into the streets Saturday, including new people inspired by Sheehan's ranch vigil., an Internet-based liberal group that rarely gets involved in street protests, decided to endorse this one in a message to its 3.5 million members after Sheehan's protest energized the anti-war movement.

But MoveOn qualified its support by noting that it had "disagreements on a range of issues" with some of Saturday's organizers.

"There's a feeling among some of our members that some of the more vocal people at these rallies are part of the far left and not representative of most Americans," said Tom Matzzie, director of Political Action, who would not be more specific. "But this is such an important moment in history that we wanted to support the events."


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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