Wind of Peace in California

Japanese newspaper
A Japanese reporter visits Bay Area peace groups

Yumi Kamazuka is the Washington correspondent for Akahata, a leftwing Japanese daily. Four years ago she visited our group (LMNOP) at Lake Merritt in Oakland and wrote about our Sunday peace walk. That was back in November 2001. This spring she again came to the lake and found us still holding our weekly peace demonstration. Below is a translation of her recent article about us and other peace groups in the Bay Area.

by Yumi Kamazuka
Correspondent for AKAHATA
April 18, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO. The network of cities and towns of Northern California which surround the San Francisco Bay is called the "Bay Area." Politically, it's a progressive region. The environment is taken seriously, gay couples are accepted and there's a strong antiwar sentiment. Last November the voters of San Francisco passed a measure prohibiting military recruiters from entering high schools.

On the eve of the Iraq war, over 200,000 protesters marched through downtown San Francisco. Compared to that huge number, this year's demonstrations of March 18th, which protested the third anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, were relatively small. There are even people who say that the antiwar movement is dwindling.

A more confident view was expressed by Sandra Schwarz of the American Friends Service Committee. "I think the antiwar movement is deepening," she said. Demonstrations and vigils held in the outlying suburbs attracted ten times the number that attended last September. "The seeds are spreading out and taking root in the suburbs," she asserted. Antiwar events were held in every part of the Bay Area.

Walnut Creek is about 45 minutes by BART from San Francisco. It's a suburban town with a population of sixty four thousand. On March 18th of this year about three thousand people marched in an antiwar demonstration there, a tenfold increase from the three hundred participants of last fall.

The town is considered affluent and relatively conservative; however, the demonstration was a success. It was organized by three local antiwar groups which interfaced with a nationwide coalition.

One of the community activists was Bob Hanson of the Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center. "The success of this demonstration was due to a lot of hard work," he said.

Preparations for the Walnut Creek event began three months ahead of time. Bob told of how they'd held planning sessions every two weeks. They were constantly negotiating with the mayor. During the last days before the rally, they passed out leaflets at the BART station.

"That this many people showed up was an expression of the goodness of the people of this community. People reaffirmed their belief that this war is a mistake."

Not a week passes without antiwar activity going on somewhere in the Bay Area.

At Lake Merritt in Oakland, shortly after 9/11, a weekly demonstration began, which still continues. It's a Sunday afternoon peace walk by Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace (LMNOP), which is now in its fifth year.

"Honk for Peace" reads one of the signs the participants carry as they walk, and, in response, auto horns are honking constantly. Pedestrians strolling around the lake call out and say, "Thank you for opposing Bush!"

One member of the group, Daniel Borgström, explained the antiwar sentiment of Oakland this way: "Bush's popularity is reported to be sinking throughout the rest of the country. Around here, however, his popularity hasn't changed at all. That's because Oaklanders never had much liking for him to began with."

This weekly activity takes place in a city where the overwhelming majority oppose the war. "Our peace walk helps to keep the movement visible in the community. People who see this feel encouraged in their opposition to the war. On the other hand, the few people who do support the war generally don't care to speak out. Our weekly demonstration must have some discouraging effect on war lovers."

Translated by Daniel Borgström