A March 19 antiwar demonstration in Los Angeles ended with around nine activists being taken away by L.A.P.D. officers after they occupied the courtyard of Hollywood’s world famous Chinese Theatre. Up to 25 veterans or relatives of military personnel deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan staged the sit-down strike on the cement blocks bearing movie stars’ footprints and inscriptions in front of the Asian-themed movie palace Sid Grauman opened in 1927.
The protesters held photos of their uniformed loved ones and placed boots with name cards over the cement that had been autographed when wet by celebrities such as Clint Eastwood. The sit-down strikers also displayed a cement slab of their own engraved with boot prints and the words “Forgotten Dead,” plus a placard that read: “True Cost of War, 5,941,” referring to the number of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The act of civil disobedience began around 3:15 p.m. as an antiwar march and rally protesting the eighth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, plus the Afghan and now Libyan wars, was ending. A speaker on the truck that served as a stage commented that the sit-in participants were “Disrupting business as usual, taking a stand by sitting down.” About 40 armed L.A.P.D. officers surrounded the peaceful activists, using metal railings and bicycles to cut the courtyard off from throngs of demonstrators, tourists and superhero impersonators in front of what is now Mann’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.’s celebrated “Walk of Fame,” with its inset stars honoring various Tinseltown talents.
A policeman videotaped the courtyard occupiers and a policewoman kneeled to talk with participants in the action, which included Dede Miller, the sister of noted “Antiwar Mom” Cindy Sheehan (who reportedly took part in a Northern California protest) and aunt of Casey Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq and whose photo Miller held. The sit-down strikers also included members of Military Families Speak Out , a national organization of people opposed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have relatives or loved ones currently in the military, or who have served in the military since the fall of 2002.
The uniformed officers conferred with an African American man in a suit who may have been a theatre employee, as well as with attorney Jim Lafferty, an organizer of the peace march and rally and head of the L.A. office of the National Lawyers Guild. This reporter, who was in the frontline of the crowd watching the unfolding drama, overheard a sergeant give orders to L.A.P.D. officers: “Take responsibility for the arrests. Two at a time.” At this point about six policemen were admitted from the sidewalk into the Chinese Theatre’s courtyard. One protester – a middle-aged man who’d earlier given an angry speech at Hollywood and Vine about what the Iraq War had done to his PTSD-suffering son – was allowed to leave the courtyard, and then delivered another address from the truck/stage.
One by one, beginning with a woman, up to nine sit-down strikers rose and were peacefully led away, accompanied by an officer on either side, as supporters in the crowd applauded and cheered their comrades on, sometimes by name. One women escorted off the property wore a Code Pink T-shirt. Another woman gave the peace sign behind her back as officers accompanied her across the courtyard to an entryway of an exit leading outside of the theatre complex. The last protester was taken away by police around 4:05 p.m.; according to Lafferty, they were booked and charged with trespassing, and then released. The rest of the demonstrators left the scene of their own accord, apparently without being arrested. The Black man in plainclothes returned the boots representing fallen warriors to the sidewalk. Police were still inside the theatre courtyard as late as 5:00 p.m.
Ironically, one of the cement blocks the sit-down strikes had occupied bore the footprints and inscription of Tom Cruise. Shortly before the civil disobedience had begun, Ron Kovic – the paralyzed Vietnam vet portrayed by Cruise in Oliver Stone’s 1989 antiwar classic Born On the Fourth of July – spoke onstage to thousands of rally-goers while ensconced in the wheelchair he’s been confined to since Kovic was shot 43 years ago in Indochina. “The power of the people is unbeatable,” declared Kovic. “We see it in Tunisia, Cairo. We are not exempt in this country from sweeping change… It can happen here… We are moving into a period of great change.” Kovic then led the crowd in an a cappella rendition of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance.
Other notables at the demo included actor James Cromwell, who was Oscar-nominated for playing the farmer in 1995’s talking pig comedy Babe, and more recently appeared in Secretariat, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who won two Academy Awards, including for the 1976 Woody Guthrie biopic Bound For Glory. The Foo Fighters’ Chris Shifflet spoke and sang onstage. Marci Winograd, a perennial left-leaning Democratic congressional candidate now seeking to replace Rep. Jane Harmon, also denounced the wars.
The A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition, which had organized the peace rallies and march, estimated the number of L.A. participants to be about 4,000 people. The event started at noon with a brief rally at the fabled intersection of Hollywood and Vine, followed by a march down Hollywood Blvd. to Sunset Blvd., past CNN’s L.A. headquarters, then back up to Hollywood Blvd., where a second and longer rally was held in front of the Chinese Theatre. Along the way, marchers encountered a handful of religious counter-demonstrators, who they outnumbered by more than 100 to one.
The peace parade was led by Kovic in his wheelchair, who frequently flashed the peace sign with his fingers. Marchers held antiwar banners and signs and chanted slogans such as: “Hey Obama We Say No, The Occupation’s Got To Go. Hey Obama, Yes You Can. Troops Out of Afghanistan.” An overhead blimp carried by demonstrators bore a banner asking: “How’s the war economy for you?” Speakers emphasized the economic costs of the wars, which they estimated to cost $700 million per day, while schools, hospitals and other essentials were being cutback.
Rally speakers denounced not only the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the spread of warfare to Libya; the allegedly abusive treatment of imprisoned PFC Bradley Manning, accused of giving classified information to WikiLeaks; as well as the perils of the ongoing nuclear catastrophe in Japan. There were demonstrations at other U.S. cities, such as at Washington, D.C., where more than 100 demonstrators, including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, were arrested outside the White House.
All photo credits: Horace Coleman.