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Rally for Peace

This is what solidarity looks like: Atlas Winfrey gives a rank and file demonstrator the bullhorn to make her points heard during the L.A. protest.

As Emperor Trump cries havoc and lets loose and wags the dogs of war, up to 200 peace protesters held a January 9 antiwar rally outside Los Angeles’ symbol of Washington, the Federal Building located near UCLA in Westwood. The demonstrators ranged from Vietnam era stalwarts to teenagers who have grown up in an America perpetually fighting endless - and unwinnable - wars. They began gathering before the 5:00 p.m. kick off time at the bus stop at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Veteran Ave., where info tables were already setup for the Bernie Sanders-for-president campaign and the #OUTNOW! Movement to drive Trump and Pence out of the White House.

Sanders is noted for his youthful acolytes but two older women “manned” the senator’s table offering leaflets and perhaps petitions. One volunteer told me “Bernie is the most antiwar candidate,” which given his long-standing support of antiwar causes and current stance against Trump’s escalations may be true. But the other Sander-nista added, “Bernie is the only antiwar candidate,” which I don’t think is accurate.

Rally for Peace

An Iranian woman named Darya expresses herself with signs and an impromptu speech via bullhorn during the L.A. protest.

The nearby Out Now! table included a brochure by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and leaflets announcing a 2:00 p.m., January 11 action converging on Westwood Blvd. and Kinross Ave. as part of its militant movement “of sustained, non-violent protest… until the [Trump/Pence] regime has been removed from power.” (Call (917)407-1286.)

As the crowd gathered holding homemade and printed picket signs, a young man from Out Now! who identified himself to me as Atlas Winfrey used a bullhorn to address people and lead chants. Winfrey stressed the need for “sustained mass protests like in Puerto Rico and Lebanon” to overthrow Trump, whom the 20-something organizer called “a motherfucker.”

Winfrey was one of the UCLA 5, “Members of the group Refuse Fascism who were arrested on charges of trespassing, disrupting the peace, and resisting arrest when they confronted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a conference at UCLA in February 2018” and were subsequently acquitted in October 2019, according to Glendale Community College’s El Vaquero newspaper.

Winfrey also referred to the “fascism” of the Trump regime, although this reporter saw absolutely no uniformed police presence on the ground at the 90-or-so-minute long rally. However, what may have been a police helicopter hovered overhead during part of the action and of course, undercover spies in street clothes might have infiltrated the crowd for all I know. Be that as it may, in a startlingly democratic fashion, Winfrey went on to do something unusual, offering any demonstrator the bullhorn to make statements. Although not all of those who took Atlas up on his generous offer were as polished a public speaker as he, all of the rank-and-filers had something valuable and important to say.

The first speaker identified herself as an Iranian “who just came home three days ago from Iran. I never knew a people who wanted peace more with Americans,” she insisted.

The first speaker identified herself as an Iranian “who just came home three days ago from Iran. I never knew a people who wanted peace more with Americans,” she insisted, contradicting the warlike image U.S. propaganda often projects of Iranians often depicted chanting “Death to America.” The young woman identified herself to me as Darya but understandably did not want her full name used. Another older woman told the crowd: “I’m an Iranian and American and Jewish. Most of all I’m a mother and I don’t want people killed.” Another impromptu speaker said: “I’m a Jewish-American…It’s insanity. Now is the time to stand. War is never the answer!”

A young woman, perhaps still a teenager, identifying herself as “Kurdish-American,” expressed the sentiments of many people from Westwood to Kurdistan and beyond, proclaiming: “FUCK Donald Trump! FUCK this administration!” reviled by so many here and abroad as it ratchets up war tensions in the midst of an impeachment imbroglio. The protester also held a “Fuck Trump!” sign.

At about 5:24 p.m. 26-year-old organizer Carley Towne of CODEPINK, the woman-dominated peace group spearheaded by the seemingly omnipresent, tireless Medea Benjamin, announced that the rally’s program would start; Winfrey and Out Now! politely turned things over to their comrades. Although as of the rally date the menace of immediate imminent war between Washington and Tehran following the U.S. airstrike against Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad seemed to have been averted, Towne declared into a microphone: “We know there is still a very large threat [of war].”

Rally for Peace

ANSWER's Cora Kohn, a college student organizer, makes an impassioned speech during the L.A. protest, as American flags flapped in the background.

The CODEPINKER noted “how disastrous [U.S.] policy” has been in the Middle East since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, a series of catastrophes that have failed to bring peace, security and democracy to the still turbulent region, despite the wasteful expenditure of trillions of taxpayer dollars plus countless deaths and casualties. Towne demanded an “end to [U.S.] economic sanctions” and for “the U.S. to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal,” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by the Obama administration along with U.S. allies, Moscow and Tehran, and which the Trump regime - not the Ayatollahs - broke, arguably triggering the cycle of rising tensions up to this point.

Towne went on to liken the “same lies” that the Trump White House was spreading to those issued by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq, including the “threats” posed by Tehran and “to bring democracy” to Iran. (Of course, now that post-Saddam Iraq has a measure of democracy, when its parliament democratically votes for U.S. troops to leave its sovereign territory and the Yankees to go home, backed by acting Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, suddenly Washington finds “democracy” to be inconvenient. What’s next for Baghdad - a U.S.-imposed electoral college?)

Rally for Peace

Rick Chertoff of Jewish Voice for Peace speaks in front of the Federal Building during the L.A. protest.

CODEPINK’s Towne then provided an economic analysis of the escalation of armed confrontation between the U.S. empire and the Islamic Republic, noting how it benefits the military-industrial complex’s bottom line, contending that war contractors’ such as Raytheon’s “stocks rose dramatically. What does that say about our economy? Killing millions of civilians is good for business.” The young activist urged members of the crowd to take immediate high-tech action to “tell congress-people to pass the war powers act. Take out your phones and call senators and sign the petition,” Towne directed the demonstrators.

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Like CODEPINK the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) has been in the vanguard of resisting Washington’s wars. Sounding like the Spanish Civil War heroine La Pasionaria, ANSWER’s Cora Kohn delivered an impassioned speech, insisting: “Trump started [events]. He violated international law, assassinating an Iranian leader in Iraq, who was there to de-escalate tensions [in the aftermath of the September attacks on ARAMCO oil refineries in Saudi Arabia], which Trump knew.”

Rally for Peace

Demonstrators line Wilshire Blvd. with their messages for peace during the rush hour traffic at the L.A. protest in Westwood.

Echoing Towne, Kohn added that not only are defense contractors profiting from the drumbeat for war but “oil company stocks shot up. Secretary of Defense Esper was a Raytheon vice president. This is not a war for us - it’s a war for the CEOs… War takes away money from social services. We need to stay united… to stop the war machine from inside. Stop the imperialists! All power to the people!!!” the university student organizer declared three times, urging people to attend a “Global Day of Protest” in their region on Saturday, Jan. 25.

Sporting a silver goatee, Rick Chertoff, a member of the Coordinating Committee of Los Angeles Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, spoke next, reiterating the contention that Soleimani was liquidated while he “was on a peace mission in Iraq and was to meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister to negotiate peace between Iran and Saudi Arabia. We don’t want to be ruled by madmen. We want power in the hands of the people to distribute the wealth,” and called for “freedom for everybody,” noting that JVP “has members who are not Jewish, including Palestinians, and cooperates with CODEPINK. Chertoff invited demonstrators to join JVP 2:00 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11 in a demo at Arizona Ave. and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

Rally for Peace

Veteran activist Lauren Steiner, a Bernie delegate at the 2016 Democratic Convention, speaks during the L.A. protest.

The next speaker, Lauren Steiner - who hosts “The Robust Opposition,” aired 7:00 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays on her Facebook page - greeted “all you beautiful peace lovers. I’m entering my sixth decade of opposing war,” which began during the Vietnam era and continued on through “the first Gulf War and with MoveOn.org to stop [George W.] Bush’s invasion of Iraq.” Like many at the inter-generational protest, which included Caucasians, Middle Easterners and a few other brown and Black people, Jews, Christians, Muslims and someone holding a “Hindus Resisting Injustice” sign, Steiner is a veteran of the antiwar movements, which are as endless as America’s endless wars. (But don’t look for those of us who took to the streets to fight for peace to get any benefits from the V.A. or public recognition at ballgames, etc., that those who fought those unnecessary imperialist wars and survived do.)

Steiner reminded rally-goers that “Trump was not the first” U.S. President to execute targeted assassinations via drones, saying “Obama did extra-judicial killings.” Nevertheless, Steiner - who was a Bernie delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention - advised listeners “don’t give up on electoral politics.” The longtime activist went on to say: “Impeachment is too easy. Trump should be prosecuted at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.” (I’d add: “Sharpen the guillotines!”)

At about 5:54 p.m. Carley Towne wrapped up the half hour or so program of scheduled speeches, but demonstrators kept waving signs at oncoming traffic and cheering when drivers honked in solidarity. An inevitable drummer appeared amidst chants of: “This is what democracy looks like!”

But I couldn’t help but wonder: “Really? In a metropolis of millions, less than 200 or so turn up to protest the serious potential of armed conflict, if not Armageddon? If this is what democracy looks like, where are the ‘demos’ - the people?”

How to turn the masses out is the big question facing today’s antiwar movement? What’s forgotten in the contemporary impeachment crisis is that during the Nixon era the USA had a revolutionary Left, including Black Panthers, the Weathermen, Yippies and others, favoring armed struggle against the government.

Rally for Peace

Carley Towne of CODEPINK launches the rally's program during the L.A. protest in front of the Federal Building.

In her insightful remarks Steiner stressed the importance of connecting pocketbook issues confronting ordinary workers to the costs of war, asserting: “50 percent of the budget goes for ‘defense’ - and that’s a euphemism. Companies like Halliburton” are enriched by war, which impoverishes the common people. The trillions wasted since 2001 in Afghanistan, the Middle East, North Africa and beyond could have provided essential services for all in America - including the dozens of homeless citizens existing in tents at the park adjoining the Federal Building.

In addition to linking those bread and butter issues to guns and butter, organizers need to tap into high profile activists, artists, politicians, etc., to help mobilize masses of people in our celebrity-driven culture. Especially in L.A., America’s culture capital. During the anti-Iraq War protests the Hollywood Left played a key role in the opposition, with organizations such as Artists United to Win Without War.

Nevertheless, even if movements may not have the numbers and power to totally prevail, never doubt that the very fact of opposition slows the ruling class down and deters the powers-that-be from carrying out their worst case scenarios. And while we still have some rights left, we better use them - before we all lose them.

ed rampell

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based reviewer, journalist and author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.