It’s Thursday night on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus—the planned meeting time for the Reno Anti-War Coalition. The new group has a few dozen individuals on its mailing list. Even fewer attend this meeting, a planning session for an upcoming trip to San Francisco on Saturday. There, the Reno activists will join thousands of other anti-war activists from around the West to send a message to the Bush administration.
“I see what our government is doing as state-sponsored terrorism,” says Stewart Stout, 18. “I’m opposed to innocent civilians being killed no matter where they live.”
As activists go, Stout seems a bit young. His torn jeans and red thrift store T-shirt—it says “Spanish Springs Ranch”—give him the look of a high-school student. His political ideologies are the stuff of punk music. One central influence has been the band, Anti-flag, which propounds distaste for unquestioning nationalism.
Stout doesn’t play in a band, though he does pick away at a bass guitar now and then. “Very poorly,” he says.
And he reads. Stuff such as biographies of radicals like Emma Goldman and a pamphlet from the AK Press, “Social Anarchism.” Stout found out about the AK Press, which sells political tracts, zines and other radical goods, at its Web site, www.akpress.com, at the Vans Warped Tour.
The Reno Anti-War Coalition is an offshoot of Patriots for Peace, the group that’s been meeting for prayer and meditation vigils on the steps of the Federal Building every week for the past year. Stout says the groups will still work together for some events. But he and several others wanted to step up the activism.
“We want to get some action going,” he says. “We’d like to be more visual and do more educational things.”
Not all northern Nevadans who are opposed to war show up at anti-war protests.
As Lisa Ray Urstadt cleans up after a weekly distribution at a Sparks church’s food pantry, she says that talk of war makes her feel nervous for her grandchildren.
“There’s too much hurt, too much violence in this world already,” says Urstadt. “I wouldn’t let my children play with guns, and I won’t let my grandchildren, either. And these weapons they have nowadays, the poisonous ones like anthrax … that’s not just a couple of killings; they’re able to wipe out tons of people.”
She can’t fathom why getting rid of Saddam Hussein is even an issue.
“How come [George H. W.] Bush dealt with this guy, and now his son is dealing with him. Isn’t that the same guy? So what’s it for? Violence begets violence. … We’re doomed. If we go to war, our children and grandchildren will have no future.”
Saturday’s anti-war protests, being organized by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), are expected to reach around the globe. The stated goal of U.S. protests is to “Stop the War in Iraq before it begins!”
In Puerto Rico, groups will protest the U.S. Navy’s use of the island of Vieques as a bomb-testing site.
In Mexico City, a “Not in Our Name, Mexico” petition signed by hundreds of Mexican citizens will be delivered to the U.S. embassy there.
In Japan, protests are planned in six cities to oppose the aggression of the United States against Iraq.
Dozens of protests are planned in countries throughout Europe—and some have already taken place. On Oct. 12, demonstrations were held in 30 cities in France. Tens of thousands of people took part, according to the Int’l ANSWER Web site, www.internationalanswer.org.
The San Francisco protest to which the Reno activists are headed begins at 11 a.m. with a rally and march in Justin Herman Plaza. At 1 p.m., the rally will continue at the Civic Center on Grove and Larkin streets.
The Bay Area event mirrors a similar, larger protest the same day in Washington, D.C.
Int’l ANSWER is only about a year old. The group formed in late September 2001, as the Bush administration began its first round of war plans targeted against groups in Afghanistan.
Carl Messineo and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, authors, attorneys and co-founders of the Partnership for Civil Justice and members of the Int’l ANSWER steering committee, contend that Bush is still “trying to strong-arm the international community” into approving and supporting U.S. military intervention in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism.
“As members of Congress rush to show their obedience and member states of the United Nations line up to receive the anticipated spoils of war, the administration is now waging a campaign to convince the people of the United States to fall into step and finance with money and blood this war brought for conquest on behalf of the corporate and oil interests that make up Bush’s true constituency,” the two authors write.
“Bush’s preemptive war is a war of aggression. The U.S. policy supporting the war is not the rule of law, but the rule of force.”
When her 19-year-old son joined the U.S. Marines last September, he did it knowing full well that he could end up at war overseas, says Jackie Walker. She admits that she tried to talk him out of it.
“A friend from church said to ask him if he could imagine having a bullet in his head,” she says. Her voice gets quieter. “So I went home and asked him. ‘Can you imagine a bullet in your head?’ And he said he could.”
She pauses, breaths deeply.
“I’m getting emotional. … I wouldn’t want any parent to send a child to war.”
Walker, who lives in Sparks and works at Harry’s Business Machines in downtown Reno, says she tries to read the headlines about war with Iraq with as much detachment as she can muster.
As a citizen, though, she’s even more irate, though she’s not likely to be carrying a protest sign down the street any time soon.
“I’m not thrilled with us being the policemen of the world,” she says. “Who gets to decide what terrorism actually is? It’s something we decide based on our values.
“People in other parts of the world have different values than we do, different social values, different religious values.”
The Reno Anti-War Coalition recently got a call from a local charter high school. Some of the students there wanted to join Stout’s group for the trip to San Francisco.
“If this war starts, half of their students might end up fighting in it,” Stout says. “That’s why they want to come.”
And that’s the fundamental motivation for Stout’s activism—he doesn’t want to see his friends and peers involved in the United State’s knee-jerk retaliations after Sept. 11. And he knows he’s standing in the anti-war protest gap for a number of people who don’t have the time or the inclination to make their views known.
“The United States could work within international law [to combat terrorism],” Stout says.
It’s clear that his soapbox is a bit new to him, but once he gets up on it, he proceeds just fine.
“Instead, they’re murdering people in other countries. It really makes me sick. … We’re opposed to violence and war. We’re opposed to the whole erosion of civil liberties that’s been going on in the past year. We’re just trying to bring a voice to our little community here, to try and affect something on a national basis.”
“Does that sound kind of weird?”