A grassroots approach to world peace
Southwest Colorado Peace and Justice Coalition starts message at home

Mary Duemetria and Greg Rossell, both of Durango, hold signs during a peace vigil organized by the Southwest Colorado Peace and Justice Coalition last week. The group holds weekly vigils to protest possible war in Iraq./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

As the drumbeats of impending war between the United States and Iraq grow louder, many Durangoans have joined the anti-war opposition resonating throughout the nation, hopeful that their messages of peace and justice will thwart what they believe is tasteless imperialism.

On Friday, nearly 80 people gathered on Durango’s Main Avenue for a peace vigil protesting any U.S.-led aggression against the Middle Eastern country. Participants walked Main, toting signs of expression and candles, gently voicing their views to passersby. Then, Saturday morning about 50 Durangoans caravanned to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, where they joined thousands of others – as well as hundreds of thousands more across the nation – to insist that President Bush and his administration choose not to take a preemptive strike against Iraq in the name of national security.

National groups organized last week’s protest in larger cities, which helped them garner the most media attention. But local efforts by the Durango-based Southwest Colorado Peace and Justice Coalition have begun to create a tide of grassroots democracy, which the coalition’s organizers say is critical.

The coalition formed in October, soon after a local rally against the invasion of Iraq drew about 300 participants. Impressed by the turnout, rally organizers received feedback from residents who wanted more than a one-time event.

“People really had the energy and interest in keeping the issue out there locally,” says Dawn Farrington, a coalition founder.

The coalition now holds weekly meetings and peace vigils. While the coalition has expanded its focus to also include issues such as justice, community and education, its immediate goal is to increase awareness about the impending war. Like others in the nation, the timing of the reaction is strategic, given the escalation of military preparations and troop deployments in recent weeks. It also is in response to the scheduled Jan. 27 deadline for the first major report by U.N. Security Council weapons inspectors.

“The strategy is to mobilize public opinion against (the war), assuming that the democratic process is in place,” says Kalin Grigg, also a coalition founder. “There is a huge amount of public doubt in the case the Bush administration has made for this war.”

National surveys, especially in recent weeks, show that the majority of Americans support Bush’s leadership in spite of the unsettling prospect of war. But vociferous opponents believe there is still time to find a peaceful resolution, particularly since they believe the administration has failed to provide clear and compelling evidence for war. Though Durango is halfway around the world from Iraq, Grigg and Farrington believe that their efforts have a deep impact.

Grigg says it helps to have people find a common viewpoint and collective voice on issues that could have local consequences.

“A sense of solidarity and community is profoundly important to people,” Grigg adds.

If the United States does engage in a full-scale war against Iraq, both Farrington and Grigg believe the most noticeable effect will be on Durango’s economy.

“The Durango economy is shaky as a reflection of the national economy,” says Grigg. “Tourism is our cream on the gallon of milk. People travel when they have discretionary income. Without that income, people won’t go places and spend money.”

To boot, says Farrington, small businesses will find it increasingly difficult to remain solvent and sustain the local labor force. Add to that the already devastating budget cuts affecting social and human services.

“People at the bottom will see this the most,” she says. “The poor won’t stay so hidden.”

Media accounts and historians say the organized opposition to this war is as strong as the opposition to the Vietnam War at the same stage of the game. And if Bush does declare war, the Southwest Colorado Peace Coalition plans only to create louder opposition and local action.

In February, coalition members will be part of a mass rally in Aspen during the ESPN X-Games. The Colorado Coalition Against War in Iraq – the first-ever statewide group formed to oppose a war – is sponsoring the rally. The local Peace Coalition has become part of this larger group under the theory of strength in numbers, says Farrington.

By the same token, protesters joined forces in Albuquerque to create a greater showing in one place, which they hope made a stronger statement. It also provided a chance for those who support the cause to unite.

“There’s more networking going on 85 before the escalation of (war),” she says.

That’s partly due to e-mail and the Internet, which the coalition uses to boost its causes, particularly since Grigg says the anti-war movement “gets very little thoughtful coverage in the mainstream media.”

Yet Farrington says it’s tough to convince people to scrutinize the subject with awareness and compassion.

“In a time of patriotic fervor, it’s hard for people to look at the issue,” she says. “But working on a local level gives you a feeling that you aren’t completely powerless.”

Most Durangoans protesting the impending war also have a global conscience. Jess Schlam, a Fort Lewis College student who participated in last week’s downtown vigil, says his participation may not affect more than five people, but those five people may affect another five people, therefore creating a swell of interest.

“I came to get the point across to others and help them realize that you can’t go around bombing peaceful nations,” Schlam says. “This is another form of news, especially the kind of news that doesn’t get censored as closely.”

Trekking behind Schlam were John and Eliane Viner. This was the first time the Viner had participated in the local peace vigil, but they have opposed war in the past, particularly Vietnam. Eliane says she has a personal disdain for war because she grew up in wartime Germany. John adds a more political aspect.

“No one elected Bush to be dictator of the world,” he says. “With the bellicose language of the president, what this does is spawn terrorism. His policy is counterproductive to his stated goals.”

Luanne Hubertus, who coordinates the coalition’s Friday peace vigils and traveled to the Albuquerque rally, says it’s important to continue with local opposition because Americans need to be awakened and educated about what’s at stake – whether they support war or not. No effort is too small, she says.

“Will we stop the war? I really hope so,” she says. “Everything is a drop in the bucket.”








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