Peace march could be one of biggest in recent memory Ñ including Vietnam era 125 religious and peace groups join to protest anticipated war with Iraq

The local antiwar movement has become so mainstream that radical activists are planning their own rally before being swallowed up by the more than 10,000 people expected to march for peace Saturday in downtown Portland.

The smaller march is scheduled to begin in the North Park Blocks at noon and then proceed Ñ without a city parade permit Ñ to join the main protest, which is sponsored by more than 125 Portland churches, religious organizations and peace groups.

The merged groups then will march, with a parade permit, to the Green Wyatt Federal Building on Southwest Third Avenue.

Activists involved with the smaller march said they agree with overall goals of preventing a war with Iraq, ending the domestic war on terrorism and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But they also feel compelled to voice their opposition to 'imperialism, racism and capitalism' before blending into what could be the largest peace march in Portland history.

'We don't agree on everything, but we are all opposed to a pre-emptive attack, which is what this war will be,' said Frank Fromherz, head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Justice and Peace. 'Everyone agrees that this is a terribly misguided policy.'

The archdiocese is one of many mainstream religious organizations that are working on the larger march. So is Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a statewide association of 17 Christian denominations, including Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Protestant, Lutheran and Orthodox bodies.

There also are numerous unaffiliated churches involved, including the Ainsworth United Church of Christ of Northeast Portland.

The coalition also includes such fringe religious organizations as the Church of Scientology and the Magic Activism Cluster, which describes itself as a network of witches working to reclaim the lost traditions of witchcraft.

Participants see it as one of the last chances to express their opposition to a war that could begin within the next few weeks. Thousands of troops recently have been dispatched to the Persian Gulf as part of the military buildup, including 230 U.S. Marine Corps reservists based in Portland who will head out within the next week or so.

But they are motivated by other issues, too. At a Tuesday news conference announcing the participation of the faith community, speakers also complained about federal and state budget cuts, the stagnant U.S. economy, Israel's treatment of Palestinians, the absence of a national health policy and the need to reconcile whites with people of color in America.

'What many people understand is that there is a relationship between war and other issues,' Fromherz said. 'No budget is infinite. If you spend money on war, that's money you don't have to spend on other needs. It's legitimate to ask if we should spend money on education instead of F-16s.'

Many of the speakers at Saturday's rally are expected to make this point, too. For example, Erin Jones, a student activist from Lincoln High School, said she will make the connection between war money and school money.

Jones predicted that hundreds of other students will take part in the march to urge Oregon voters to approve Measure 28, the three-year state income tax surcharge on the Jan. 28 special election ballot.

But opposition to the war, which President Bush is threatening in an effort to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, is the unifying theme of the event.

Portland's march is one of several antiwar protests scheduled around the nation on Saturday to coincide with the Jan. 15 birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., which will be officially celebrated Monday.

Other large protests are set for San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C.

Opposition isn't universal

Not everyone in Portland is supportive of the effort, of course. Inez Weissman, chairwoman of Oregon American for a Safe Israel, agrees with Bush. She said many protesters are hopelessly naive about the threat that Saddam poses to the world Ñ beginning with Israel.

'I support the defeat of evil, of course. What choice do we have?' Weissman said.

Despite its support for the war, Weissman's group is not planning a counterdemonstration Saturday. Instead, it is working on a pro-Israel rally later this year with the Christian Coalition and Bridges for Peace.

'A counterdemonstration does them an honor,' she said.

Darryl Howard, executive director of the Oregon Republican Party, argued that Bush is basing his decisions on intelligence information that is not available to the public.

'We support the president,' he said. 'We believe that when the public learns everything he knows, they will agree that he is using good judgment.'

Movement gathers strength

Perhaps because of the diversity of motives, today's peace movement appears to be growing faster than the one that was mobilized to oppose the Persian Gulf War. Saturday's march will be the third major downtown gathering against the war with Iraq.

In spite of the large crowds and increasing levels of antiwar passion, relations between protesters and the police have remained civil.

'We've had a couple of nice, safe, permitted events, and we've proved that we can maintain good relations with the police,' said Xander Patterson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. 'More people are feeling like it's safe to come out and express their views in these events.'

Police say the first two antiwar protests Ñ Oct. 5 and Nov. 16 Ñ drew about 5,000 and 8,000 people, respectively. Saturday's event is expected to eclipse even the largest marches of the Vietnam War era.

Wes Taylor, chairman of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, credits much of the growth to the active participation of the faith community.

'As a young adult who opposed the war in Vietnam, I remember that it took years to get the churches to speak out,' Taylor said at a news conference Tuesday. 'This time, it's taken days.'

The increasing numbers also come from the involvement of suburbanites. One of Saturday's speakers, Nancy Kurkinen, is credited with bringing soccer moms into the equation. She founded a group called Families for Peace that drew several hundred people to a rally at Waterfront Park several months ago.

Portland's the place

In many respects, the presence of a large, growing local antiwar movement is hardly news. Portland has a well-earned reputation as a hotbed of liberal politics; elected Republicans are scarce. City voters have packed the council with liberals and moderates for 30 years. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader consistently draws huge crowds whenever he appears in town.

Indeed, much of the protest rhetoric has a partisan flavor. Speakers at previous marches have repeatedly rehashed the 2000 presidential election, complaining that Bush was 'selected, not elected' by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stopped the Florida recount.

Portland also is nationally known for large street protests. Former President George H.W. Bush dubbed the city 'Little Beirut' because of its militant demonstrations Ñ a tradition that continued when his son visited town last August.

Still, even veteran activists are impressed by the apparent size and breadth of the current protest movement.

Yaney MacIver, a program coordinator for Oregon Peace Works, said antiwar organizers are facing fewer counterprotests that question their patriotism than they have in past efforts.

'When we hold vigils, we get about 80 percent support from people passing by,' she said. 'It's all thumbs up and honking horns. I wear my peace buttons into the hardware store, and I get very positive responses from the people I see there.'

Many of the participants have protested war before.

'At this point (in the mid-'60s), the Vietnam War was only opposed by hippies,' said Alan Graf, a 50-year-old Portland lawyer who is representing protesters pepper-sprayed by police during Bush's visit in August. 'Now, many of the protesters look like they were hippies then, got married, got jobs and are now getting active again.'

This older crowd was well-represented at a Jan. 5 gathering at First United Methodist Church, where more than 600 people crammed into the chapel of the downtown church. Most were middle-aged, with sweaters and khakis outnumbering T-shirts and blue jeans.

Billed as a public forum on the possible economic impacts of a war with Iraq, the gathering often had the feeling of a pep rally. The entire room erupted in applause when Tom Markgraf, an aide to Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., proclaimed, 'The war is wrong.'

City Commissioner Erik Sten also attended the gathering. By the end of the two-hour session, he was so impressed by the turnout and arguments that he agreed to introduce a resolution opposing the war to the full council.

'At that point, I became convinced we should have a discussion on this at City Hall,' Sten said. 'We should be talking about these issues.'

Ben Jacklet contributed to this report.

Contact Jim Redden atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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