Activists Make Case Against War in Iraq

The plan calls for Maxine and Ginny to board the bus together and ride to New York City, stand outside the United Nations and tell the politicians inside that they don't want armies flying their flag to invade Iraq.

Maxine is Maxine Wright, 9-years-old and in the fourth grade at Milton's Thatcher Montessori School. She was not born when the United States fought in the Gulf War.

And Ginny is Ginny Guild, veteran of war protests dating back to the Vietnam War, when she organized her Dorchester neighbors, marching, posting signs, and petitioning for a stop to American involvement in Southeast Asia.

"Now, we have this opportunity to stop something before it happens, which we didn't have before Vietnam," Guild told the Reporter. "I think that we've had an impact already. I think we have at least created more caution."

Wright, who distributes leaflets and organizes petitions along with her father, Daryl Wright, and Guild are two members of Dorchester People for Peace, a growing grass-roots organization of neighborhood activists looking to voice opposition to the looming armed conflict in Iraq.

Mike Prokosch, one of the group's dozen or so founders, said, "It's just a group of new and old Dorchester residents who have been getting more and more worried about the danger of war and the effect a war is already having on Dorchester in terms of budget cuts."

The group organized in a living room two months ago and has started handing out fliers, carrying signs, posting leaflets, and collecting signatures in the neighborhood to build opposition to the ongoing march toward war in the Persian Gulf.

Asked if such low-level activism could, in fact, influence geopolitical policy, Guild replied, "It always has in the past. I think the more people that we can get to speak out and do something, the better."

"It's influencing the thinking of their neighbors," said Roxbury City Councillor Chuck Turner, who plans to propose a resolution condemning military action when the Council reconvenes next week. "The broader the base

of opposition, the stronger the movement against the war becomes, so I think these small groups become essential."

Dorchester People For Peace has no specific religious affiliation, and doesn't plan any, according to Prokosch. But the group has been working with religious organizations, schools, and health care centers in their attempt to bolster opposition to military action.

Thus far, the drive has consisted mostly of spreading the word, sign-holding and leafleting in Fields Corner, Codman Square, Grove Hall, Uphams Corner, and at Monday's Martin Luther King observance at the Strand Theatre, but Prokosch and others are undertaking a more thorough and creative effort that they hope will produce tangible results for neighborhood people: a study of how the war effort is manifesting itself through budget cuts on the local level.

Yvonne Ferguson has been talking to local school administrators, and said school budgets may have to be slashed by as much as 10 percent, which could lead to program closings and teacher layoffs. Health centers are predicting similar budget-slashing techniques, starting mainly with outreach programs.

Becky Pierce has been canvassing the homeless shelters, and has found that most shelters are expecting five to 10 percent cuts over the next six months, projecting out to 10 to 20 percent cuts over the next year. A shelter with 30 beds says it will lose six. And shelters are expecting to cut homeless prevention measures, with qualifications for aid will be regulated more strictly.

"That's not just the war; it's the recession, the state budget crisis," Prokosch said. "But the reason the federal government isn't coming through with more money and bailing us all out is the war.

"If they devoted all the resources going to the war to the state budget crisis, there wouldn't be any, and there'd be money left over to spare."

Daryl Wright said he joined the group when they were leafleting in Fields Corner.

"I had some conversations with Mike about the war in Iraq and felt like it was something worth working for," Wright said, saying he was concerned because, "I don't think the President has made his case about why war is important. I think it's a distraction from the real war, which is terrorism. I'm also concerned about who's paying for the war. I think there are a lot of things that are happening in our community that are more important than a war in Iraq and I'm not convinced it's necessary at this time."

Wright's daughter, Maxine, circulated a petition with her friend in their classroom, collecting roughly 20 signatures to send to Senator Edward M. Kennedy in Washington.

"That made me say, 'Hey, if my daughter can be active, then I should do something and get involved‚'" her father laughed.

"I'm pretty sure it will ruin people's lives and put people's lives in mortal danger, and I don't think that's right," Maxine said of her opposition to the war.

She said she hopes to join the February 15 trip to New York City, where thousands will throng outside the United Nations to demonstrate. Closer to home, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) will join Turner and others at the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Roxbury on Saturday from 2:30-4:30 p.m. to discuss the war's impact.

The group will leaflet today Thursday from 4:30-6 pm at Ashmont Station, tomorrow from 4:30-6 p.m. at Shawmut, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Codman Square and Grove Hall.

In a related story, a group of 23 people, including several from Dorchester, represented the anti-war group Move On in a meeting with Congressman Stephen Lynch's aide Stacey Walker at his Boston office on Tuesday, delivering a petition signed by 848 of Lynch's constituents from the Ninth Congressional district. The national group says it has collected more than 250,000 signatures opposing the war, which were distributed to congressional offices nationwide.

For more information about Dorchester People for Peace, call 282-3783.