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Rebuilding Iraq

From all walks, antiwar protesters on same path

By Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff, 2/15/2003

America's growing peace movement, on display today in Manhattan in what is expected to be one of the country's largest antiwar protests in decades, is attracting people from Dorchester's triple-deckers to Hardwick's red oak groves.

Joined by their dislike for what they see as America's aggression, knots of like-minded but unconnected activists have begun staging antiwar protests and devising schedules for sit-ins and acts of civil disobedience. What has distinguished these moves from demonstrations against previous wars, protesters say, is that the anger is surfacing before hostilities begin.

In Hardwick, the Catholic pacifist Agape Community is holding vigils, reaching out to clerics, and planning ''noncooperation'' if war breaks out. The community, located on 32 secluded acres near the Quabbin Reservoir, is among thousands of small groups across the country that have begun organizing to oppose a potential war they consider unprovoked and unjustified.

''I think this war is going to put us in dramatically more danger,'' said Suzanne Shanley, 57, who founded Agape in 1982 with her husband, Brayton. ''It's like we're pouring gasoline on the fire of anti-Americanism.''

Those sentiments resonate miles away in Boston's South End.

''This is an unjust war that has nothing to do with defending the interests of the people of the United States. It's simply a war of aggression,'' said Scott Langley, who has been meeting with a growing number of people at Haley House, where a Catholic workers' organization is based.

The group, which started with a handful of members Feb. 2, has gathered at least five times and now numbers more than 20 participants, Langley said.

''We've got student-activists, seasoned antiwar and pacifist folks, others who are doing this for the first time, older people, and younger women,'' he said. ''It's come together informally by word of mouth and phone calls.''

The same has been true for Dorchester People for Peace, which attracted a dozen people to its first meeting a few months ago but has tripled in size since then. Group members regularly mobilize at busy sites in Dorchester, including subway stations, and have handed out more than 8,000 leaflets in five languages throughout the neighborhood.

''We're all really busy people - carpenters, social service workers, community people - but it's too outrageous to stay out of it,'' said Mike Prokosch, a longtime Dorchester activist. ''In and around Boston, there are about two dozen neighborhood groups, some of which sprang up right after 9/11, and some like Dorchester, which are a few months old.''

So far, the antiwar movement in the United States has been relatively low-key. But public sentiment here, although not as strident as in Europe, is gaining momentum. At least 90 local governments across the country have asked President Bush to forgo war, and a lawsuit filed this week in Boston by six members of Congress and two Massachusetts soldiers asks a federal judge to declare hostilities with Iraq unconstitutional.

At Fort Drum, N.Y., where many members of the Massachusetts National Guard are drilling before their deployment, one regular Army soldier voiced his opposition to action against Iraq and said he would attend today's protest in New York.

''I love the Army, and I love the lifestyle,'' said Specialist Travis Burnham, 23, of West Palm Beach, Fla. ''But I can't see the justification in this. I really believe it's something the UN can resolve.''

In New England, the number of protesters appears unmatched since the nuclear weapons protests of the early 1980s, said Joseph Gerson, New England program director for the American Friends Service Committee.

''This is powerful,'' Gerson said. ''I've never seen a situation where you have hundreds of thousands of people who are coming together to protest before the war has begun.''

The Agape Community, whose name is a Greek expression for God's love, says it is attempting to engage young people in an ethical discussion about the war through an initiative backed by the Diocese of Worcester. Dialogue among students at three Catholic colleges in the diocese - College of the Holy Cross and Assumption College in Worcester, and Anna Maria College in Paxton - is intended to explore Catholic teachings about ''just war'' and nonviolence, and to stimulate consideration of their relevance to potential military action against Iraq.

The outreach is also reaching parishes throughout the diocese, said Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester.

''We're asking the government to give peace a chance and try all the nonviolent methods you can before you go to war,'' Reilly said.

For Suzanne and Brayton Shanley, whose brand of ''radical pacifism'' dates to the Vietnam War, this kind of work is conducted with an evangelistic zeal that colors all aspects of their back-to-the-earth, tax-resistant, spiritually-oriented community.

''Iraq is a slaughtered country,'' said Brayton Shanley, 55. ''Granted, they have a homicidal maniac running it, but they are a slaughtered, ruined country. Preemptive strikes are not what Americans do.''

The Shanleys have developed a contingency plan for the outbreak of war. Beginning with the first day of hostilities, Agape's ''campaign of noncooperation'' will include three sessions of daily prayer, a 24-hour water fast, 40 days of eating only one meal per day, no purchases of gasoline on the first day of war, and no automobile use or work on the second day.

Brayton Shanley has no grand expectations about the effect of his work. When asked whether Agape expects many supporters, Shanley said success will be measured individually.

''Even if I was the only person on Earth, it would make me feel good to do this,'' Shanley said. ''You do it not because it works, but because it is right.''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/15/2003.
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