The Calm Before the Storm

For anti-war protesters, the enemies are indifference and irrelevance

The day of the attacks, campus officials removed a student telephone directory from the university's Web page after a student with a foreign-sounding name received what Volkmann called an "inappropriate call" from someone outside the university. On the day of the demonstration, a local television station erroneously reported that someone had shot at a student, provoking fear and uncertainty on campus, he adds. In such an atmosphere, officials concerned about the safety of students decided to close the event. "It was due to the incredible sense of uncertainty and trepidation -- and, I guess, fear -- of many people on the campus," Volkmann says. That fear has largely subsided. The Web directory is back up, and a teach-in organized by Amnesty International and WashUPeace last week was open to all. More than 200 people attended. Volkmann says he anticipates more peace forums and demonstrations and, barring unforeseen events, those will be open to the public.

Food Not Bombs, a peace group that hands out free meals at its demonstrations, also encountered difficulty the weekend after the attacks when it set up outside the Market in the Loop in University City. A man playing chess nearby became irate and twice called police. The first time, officers told demonstrators to remove signs posted on public and private property. "The cops came and said we weren't doing anything wrong," says Mark Fraley, a member of Food Not Bombs who also helped organize the Wash U. demonstration. "We just had to take the signs off the property." The signs came down, but two different officers were back about an hour later. Exactly what they did is a matter of dispute.

Fraley says the officers told the group they had to leave the market, and so they moved to a spot a couple blocks away, near Fitz's. Capt. Charles Adams of the University City Police Department insists that no one was told to move. "They were never told they had to leave," Adams says. "We're as liberal as they come. Everyone's very sensitive right now, from both sides of the coin. We preach patience." There has since been at least one other demonstration by Food Not Bombs on the Loop, with no problems reported. Fraley says he had no preconceived notions, but his personal experience casts doubt on polls that show an overwhelming number of Americans favor war. "It certainly hasn't reflected the polls that suggest 90 percent of Americans are bloodlusting," Fraley says. "For the most part, people seem to be very receptive. A lot of people agree with us. There's a lot of people who really haven't made up their minds."

Candlelight vigil for peace at the New Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard
Jennifer Silverberg
Candlelight vigil for peace at the New Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard

Other demonstrations have also met little notice or fuss. Two weeks after the attacks, seven demonstrators stood silently amid the Kiener Plaza fountains with anti-war signs while several hundred equally quiet office workers ate lunch on surrounding steps. "They've got as much of a right to say what they feel as anyone," said Dave Must as he munched a sandwich with friends. Like the demonstrators, Must, who works at May Co., believes that the terrorists need to be punished, but he confesses he doesn't have any easy answers. "I don't think such a thing exists," he says. "It needs to be premeditated and well planned. I think the people responsible for what happened need to pay for their actions. It's so nebulous this time around. It's not about territory. It's not about a regime. You can't put a set of crosshairs on it."

Demonstrators also don't have answers, but they know what shouldn't be done. While handing out anti-war leaflets in the Central West End, Heidi Waltz, 23, pauses to say that those responsible should be imprisoned forever but war isn't the answer. It's time for America to examine its foreign policy and admit it has made mistakes, she says, and that's not giving in to terrorism, it's simply doing the right thing. "A lot of people are very angry at us and chose a very horrible way to get our attention," she says. "We continue to have wars decade after decade, and so far it's led to war, so I suggest, 'Let's try something else.'"

A pair of women -- members, it appears, of the "Greatest Generation," approach. They're walking a dog. Waltz hands them a leaflet headlined "An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind." The women smile as they accept a leaflet, but they shake their heads at the same time. "We all hope nobody gets hurt, but it's war," one of them tells Waltz. "Sorry, dear, but it is." Or maybe not.

"I would love my generation to be the first generation to say, 'No, we're not going to be part of this,'" Waltz says.

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