Peace Out

Protesting war is hell.

In a fourth-floor study room at the University of Arizona Library, activists were meeting three times a week to plan protests designed to shock and awe.

An anti-war group originally made the room into a 24-hour information center strewn with pamphlets and laptops. On the walls were a giant map of Iraq, a banner reading "Endless War? Not in Our Name" and a handmade poster decrying the toxic bleaching of tampons.

This week, just a month after they set up round-the-clock shop, members of UA Peace Refuge closed the doors on the "UA Anti-War Infoshop," focusing instead on their daytime operation at a table on the UA Mall. There weren't many people making the trek up to the fourth floor, said activist Laura Showalter.

Some might wonder why they continue planning protests at all, considering the long nights, harsh words and all-out opposition they sometimes endured--and considering the fact that the war, in the minds of many, is over.

"I'm a masochist," said activist Shawn Nock. "(I) don't like sleep at all."

Although library staff reported some "borderline loitering" issues with regard to the peace refuge, the problems were "resolved without too much of an incident," said Barbara Allen, special assistant to the dean at the UA Library.

"Obviously, we're big believers in freedom of speech," she said. "They've been very conscientious in their understanding of our opening hours and closing hours. The fine line we're walking is to make sure university laws and rules are kept."

Earlier this month, members of the refuge ventured out for a "die-in" during the UA Student Union Memorial Center's busy lunchtime.

So-called die-ins have been staged in cities all over the country and are meant to symbolize the Iraqi dead, according to activists. Some protests have blocked entry to buildings or been staged in secured areas, such as the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

At the UA die-in, most of the lunchroom crowd ignored eight screaming activists, who splashed themselves with fake blood, went limp on the ground or challenged onlookers to envision the horrors of war.

Other people heckled protestors as boom-box gunfire and artillery sounds reverberated through the air. One man emptied his drink on an activist in disgust.

"It was really, really loud," said high school student Gabriel Schivone, 19, who said he identified with the cause, but did not participate. "The best thing about it was it interrupted daily life. That's the reminder there's a war going on."

UA junior Briana Rogers, 19, said she heard "a bunch of screaming" and later saw a woman slip on a patch where fake blood had been. The Tucsonan felt divided, saying the die-in was a "freedom of speech" issue that didn't arouse much interest.

"I think it's important that they're doing this," Rogers said. "But I think they could make a bigger impact and have people be more supportive of the idea they're trying to express."

The very notion of protesting at a time when America's soldiers are in battle incensed 43-year-old Rose Fiore of Tucson.

"Once the men got there, I really think they should have stopped all activism," Fiore said. "They're the ones under fire, they don't need to see things and have their morale go down."

Fiore, the wife of a retired serviceman, said the Student Union die-in was "really good if they're going for an Oscar nomination," but still thought most protestors' "motives are sincere." She added, however, that the convictions of today's activists are "nothing like Vietnam."

"I think a lot of it is ludicrous," she said. "It's a way for them to handle their stress. There are certain ways of doing things; it's how they go about doing it that upsets me."

Nineteen-year-old Nock, who participated in the die-in, saw it as the grin-and-bear-it side of the First Amendment, saying "free speech is disrespectful."

"We cleaned up after ourselves," the Peoria, Ariz., native said. "We made an effort to not splash blood on and not directly affect anyone in any way. We didn't target names, people or even governments."

"I didn't see it as a disrespectful act. It was done with concern for all those involved and with taste--and by taste, I mean the blood was tasty."

Tucson folk singer and long-time activist Ted Warmbrand believes it's imperative in a healthy democracy for citizens to have the chance to voice their opinions. Warmbrand, 60, said "there's all kinds of people" just starting to protest and hopes "they won't be intimidated" by anti-activist sentiment.

"It's nice to know you can attack the establishment in a democracy," he said. "There's always people who're going to take the time in their lives to exercise their rights as citizens. If you shut that down, how can you say you have a government of the people?"

Warmbrand said the outpouring of anti-war feelings from people who've never been involved in any kind of public speech has been "astonishing." The speed at which these feelings were harnessed into organized protest was one key difference he saw between now and Vietnam.

In contrast, Sheldon Siegel of Glendale, Calif. said the small numbers of activists he's seen "didn't seem very happy." Originally from New Jersey, the 42-year-old was a child during Vietnam, but said the passion of yesterday's activists is gone because now "it's all about the sound bite."

"There's gotta be cameras around to get more people involved," he said.

In the past, it seemed to Siegel there was more commitment and less information. Now, the roles are reversed. He said activism would be better off with the "passion of '60s and the information of the 21st century."

Jim Landers of Rochester, N.Y., agreed there is "much more media today," making knowledge and protest plans freely available through sources like the Internet.

"Whether there's truth or not, you're getting deluged with all kinds of information," said the 53-year-old Landers.

He said that while he didn't protest during Vietnam, he "supported activism." Anti-war demonstrations during Vietnam were "more of a lifestyle" and "more of a mindset" than today, thought Landers, even though he saw few differences in protest methods between the time periods.

"When I turn on a TV and I see a demonstration, it looks like Vietnam," he said. "But I think the activists of the '60s were more committed."

Showalter said her conscience forces her to protest. She doesn't lack moxie: The bright-eyed 18-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta, continued wearing a T-shirt bearing the words "Islam is not our enemy" and "Stop this racist war" after being accosted in public.

She said she was walking down the street when a woman a short distance away cried, "The Iraqis don't want us to stop the war," and called her a "stupid cow." Showalter shrugged it off.

"I would feel just bad if I wasn't doing something," she said. "I know I wouldn't support the war and I feel the need to inform other people so other people can make an educated decision."

Warmbrand said he was moved to sing and speak out in a struggle "to keep the world from careening into this madness." While he thought the scale of the anti-war movement was underrepresented in the media, he nevertheless recognized the challenge in getting their message to those in power.

"They've changed the game," he said. "We need to find some new arrows in our quiver."

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