, the Bay Area Declaration of Peace group held a press conference at the Federal Building in downtown San Francisco to kick off their campaign.
There weren’t a whole lot of press there — other than me, who was wearing my blogger cap and so could be considered a reporter, there was a writer for the Socialist Worker, a camera crew from KTVU, and a reporter for KPFA. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi sent her deputy district director downstairs to make noncommittal words in favor of peace and promise to tell Nancy what she’d heard and seen.
Other than that, it was peace movement folks speaking to each other — people from many local organizations or local chapters of larger organizations who had come together to share their groups’ endorsements of the Declaration of Peace. Among these were Code Pink, the Berkeley Grey Panthers, the San Francisco Labor Council and U.S. Labor Against the War, Pax Christi, War Resisters League West, the Ecumenical Peace Institute, the California/Nevada conference of the United Methodist Church, United for Peace and Justice, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Pace e Bene, and Military Families Speak Out.
I’ve mentioned the Declaration campaign here before (see , , and ). I attended the press conference today because I hoped this might be the real deal — the anti-war movement buckling down and making a real shift from ineffective complaining to sustained and practical direct action.
I’d like to be able to report that I saw evidence of this at the press conference, but in truth it seemed to me to be more of the same. I think it is a good thing that many different groups are coming together and planning to do actions but from the looks of things, the tactics will be the same familiar mix of marches, rallies, complaints, and so forth, with an occasional sit-in or die-in to give the news teams something to bring back to the office for broadcast. None of this will stop this war or threaten to get in the way of the next one.
Most of the press conference speakers were content to speak mostly about why they believe the invasion was wrong and the occupation remains wrong and why the U.S. should withdraw. Few speakers even discussed tactics or gave any indication that they felt the Declaration represented anything new in its attempt to put some muscle behind this impotent pleading.
One exception to this was Friar Louis Vitale of Pace e Bene. He started off by talking about what “we” should do about Iraq, where “we” seemed to mean the United States as a whole, or its government, which was unfortunate, since neither group seems to be asking the peace movement for advice. But this morphed into a call for U.S. troops to be replaced with some sort of peacemaker teams, which strikes me as something that elements of the peace movement could decide to take on as a project, though it’s a long shot.
Vitale was a strange mix — on the one hand he was the only speaker to urge a sustained campaign of civil disobedience and to make the point that the Declaration’s deadline is to be the beginning of a serious civil disobedience campaign and that if it doesn’t work right away, “we’ll up it, and up it, and up it and fill the jails if necessary.”
(The other speakers hardly mentioned civil disobedience or direct action at all, and seemed to think the Declaration was just another mass-signed complaint, or that what was planned for was just another big march — one speaker’s idea of appropriate nonviolent action was to bring the “drumbeat of mother earth” to Washington in order to “raise vibrations” so that the “energy itself would bring consciousness.”)
On the other hand, Vitale was oddly comfortable with establishment liberals. He said he had been talking to Harry Reid the other day and he asked the Senate Minority Leader why the peace movement wasn’t getting much traction. Reid told him that the peace movement needed to get people out in the streets, and Vitale passed this piece of advice on to us. (Of course, the huge street protests of didn’t manage to convince Reid to vote against authorizing the Iraq War in the first place, so he should have a pretty good idea of just how effective such tactics are.)
Vitale said he would be going to Washington to join a fast along with such celebrity protesters as Cindy Sheehan, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and Dick Gregory (who seems to fast almost as often as most people eat). Our local Code Pink group will also be doing a fast — fasting outside of Dianne Feinstein’s office during the day and outside her home during the night. I’m pretty sure I don’t understand the use of fasting as a protest tactic, but I’m all for hounding Senator Feinstein. There was talk of these fasts going on for two months.