America’s Main Business Paper Reports on Pittsburgh Antiwar Movement

[The following news story appeared in the October 1 Wall Street Journal, on the front page of that newspaper’s second section (see pp. B-1 and B-11). For the information of our readers, we have retyped the article, which toward its end mentions Paul Le Blanc, an editor of Labor Standard. (Our thanks to Andy Pollack for calling the article to our attention.)

[This news story apparently describes a planning meeting held “last Sunday” (that is, September 23), not the Educational Speak-Out scheduled for September 30 on a campus in Pittsburgh. See elsewhere on the Labor Standard web site for the text of a flyer and draft statement for the September 30 event. We hope soon to post news about the September 30 Pittsburgh Speak-Out itself.]

[This article from America’s premier business newspaper was coupled with another about the U.S. government’s removal of Peace Corps members from Central Asian countries near Afghanistan. There was an overall headline for both articles: “As Peace Corps Evacuates, Peace Movement Activates.” The article about the Pittsburgh antiwar movement, which also acknowledges the rise of a nationwide antiwar movement, including indirect reference to the student teach-ins held on roughly 150 campuses the previous week, was written by WSJ staff reporter Clare Ansberry.]

Several hundred people gathered in the First Baptist Church here last Sunday night [September 23?], among them students with their lips pierced, a grandmother wearing a white blouse with a red bow tied smartly at her neck, and an African American man in a brightly woven hat. There were psychotherapists, lawyers, and professors.

Like thousands of others in recent weeks, they were brought together by the events of Sept. 11. But this group had something else in common: they were reluctant to admit to neighbors, co-workers, and classmates that they belong to peace groups in a country so resolute in fighting the enemy.

“We’ve been made to feel that anyone not united in the effort is not patriotic,” said Molly Rush, who 20 years ago took a hammer to a nuclear warhead at a protest at a General Electric plant. Standing in the center aisle at last week’s meeting, microphone in hand, she exhorted the group to break its silence, noting that speaking out is a hallmark of the peace movement and a critical American liberty. “But we are all patriots here tonight. We care about our country, our world. We need to be a voice for peace.” With that the once-silent crowd applauded and cheered.

The peace movement, quiescent for years, is again beginning to mobilize. Over the weekend, an estimated 10,000 people, many of whom are actively involved in anti-globalization efforts, marched in downtown Washington, urging a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Last weekend, hundreds of students on college campuses gathered to create a coast-to-coast noon peace rally. Students from Harvard, Boston University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology carried candles through Cambridge and Boston, while those at Lewis & Clark in Oregon formed a human peace symbol. In New York, which took the brunt of the terrorist attacks, thousands of people participated in a peace march from Union Square to Times Square.

Veterans for Peace Inc. issued a statement cautioning against retaliatory violence, and an alternative newspaper called Peace News was organized in San Francisco. A group of theologians at the University of Chicago began circulating a petition, imploring the president and international leaders to use international judicial institutions and human-rights laws to bring the terrorists to justice. It had 500,000 signatures.

The task before them is enormous. Being a part of a peace movement has never been wildly popular with mainstream America, no matter how much people say they favor peace. Ms. Rush, who is one of the original members of the Plowshares Eight, a group of eight activists who were arrested after taking hammers to the nose cones of nuclear missiles, says the challenge for peace groups is even greater now. “I cannot recall anything of this magnitude and difficulty,” she says. Never before, she says, has she seen the country feeling angry, violated, and vulnerable, so galvanized in a desire for retaliatory action. What makes their message even more difficult is that they are protesting a retaliation that has yet to occur and whose form is still unknown.

The Sunday meeting was organized by the Thomas Merton Center, formed in 1971 and named after the Trappist monk, poet, and writer who was known worldwide for his campaign against the Vietnam War. Many other local peace groups here in Pittsburgh have become inactive. The Merton Center, itself, had been focusing on living wages and racism, publishing a newspaper called New People and running the Giving Tree Alternative gift shop.

Tim Vining, a lawyer and former Franciscan who taught philosophy and lived with homeless men for eight years in Baton Rouge, La., started his job as executive director of the center exactly one week before the Sept. 11 attacks. The nation had to respond, and while he believes the best way is through an international war-crimes trial, he knew that it would likely do so with military force. Others with similar fears immediately began calling, asking “What are we going to do?

“A lot of people in the peace movement are just too overwhelmed to do anything,” says Sandy Kelson, a Pittsburgh attorney who enlisted in the Vietnam War and is now a member of Veterans for Peace. The local chapter no longer holds monthly meetings at the Soldiers and Sailors Hall. Many of its members are affiliated now with the Merton Center. Mr. Kelson has found that when he raises questions about what actions the government is proposing, or what might have prompted the attack, he is rebuffed. “I’m a lawyer. I talk to lawyers. I talk to stockbrokers. I have a working farm. I talked to people on the farm. When I try to talk to people they don’t want to hear it,” he said.

Mr. Vining, wanting the center to bring the various groups and its own 500 members together, met with his board during a weekend retreat and called for an Emergency Mobilization meeting. He expected about 100 people to show up. The crowd was three times that size, filling the front and side pews.

They broke into 10 discussion groups, filling the church, its upstairs and balconies and the concrete steps outside under the moonlight. Another group stood in the vestibule. They proposed slogans that would defy stereotypes and resonate more broadly, like “Patriots for Peace” and “No more civilian casualties.” They suggested providing escorts for local Muslims who felt threatened, creating a speakers’ bureau, and organizing teach-ins at schools. They wrote their ideas on big sheets of white paper and taped them to the pulpit and along the walls. They formed committees and planned to meet again.

This isn’t the first campaign for activist Paul Le Blanc. His first demonstration was in the autumn of 1965 against the Vietnam War. That movement was unpopular, too, but ultimately it helped bring an end to the war. The same process is critical now, he says.

After the meeting, people signed up for various committees to organize rallies and public forums. Says Mr. Vining, of the Merton Center, “We’re only at the beginning of this. Now is not the time to pack up our tents [!] and say peace is not possible anymore,” he says.

[Was the Wall Street reporter making a subtle dig here, with overtones of racism? The concluding quotation of her article echoes Longfellow’s famous lines about the cares of the day, which “fold up their tents, like the Arabs, and silently steal away.”]