As a Vietnam veteran long active in Tallahassee’s social justice circles, Tom Baxter demonstrated locally in the 1980’s against South Africa’s apartheid government and the funding of Contra troops in Nicaragua.
Polls show most Americans support military action as a response to the Sept. 11 attacks in Washington and New York and Baxter admits that it’s a struggle to get people interested in peaceful solutions.
“The silent majority is certainly supportive of the war,” Baxter said, a member of Veterans for Peace and the newly-formed Tallahassee Network for Justice and Peace. “A lot of them don’t know what they’re saying about a lot of this stuff.”
Baxter and others formed the Network in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.
From a first meeting of a dozen people in one member’s living room, members from the Tallahassee Green Party, Veterans for Peace, the ACLU, Pax Christi, an international peace and justice group and the Islamic Center of Tallahassee, sympathetic to the Network’s aims, have entered the fold.
Even with the Taliban retreating in Afghanistan, the Bush administration is still committed to a war on terrorism, listing Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives as fugitives to be brought in, as President Bush put it, “dead or alive.”
While antiwar protests during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars often drew hundreds of thousands, a nationwide peace movement has been slow to mobilize, and attendance at rallies has remained modest. A Sept. 29 demonstration in Washington D.C. attracted 7,000 people, the most visible expression of opposition so far to the United States’ military deployment in the Middle East.
At the Network’s first rally, Nov. 4 on the steps of the Old Capitol, Kathy Chudoba, a FSU professor in the college of business, estimated that 100 to 125 people stopped by during the afternoon to discuss and, occasionally debate, the war on terrorism.
Roger Peace, a member who had worked with Baxter in the now-defunct Tallahassee Peace Coalition, said that the responses the group has received have been primarily positive.
“You wouldn’t know that from people in the media,’ Peace said.
As a history teacher at one of the local colleges, Peace said he thought people, particularly students, were more interested in examining why someone like Bin Laden would plan the attack and his appeal to disaffected people in the Middle East angry at United States’ involvement in the region and financial support of Israel.
Network members are insistent that a different approach is needed to address the issue of terrorism. Peace reasoned that the lingering question of who the enemy is has slowed the mobilization of a focused peace movement nationally.
“It’s not quite so clear. It’s not just stop the bombing,’ Peace said. “It’s not just a peace movement that’s going to pop up like a cork out of a bottle.’
Chudoba said that the Network could be useful on a local level by providing Tallahassee residents, even supporters of military action, a forum to discuss responses to terrorism.
“I would like to see us depend more on international courts of justice to bring Bin Laden and others to justice, rather than bombing,” Chudoba said. ” I am not all convinced that this will bring a stop to future terrorist bombing.”
With weekly vigils at the corner of Apalachee Parkway and Monroe Street, and active networking with other antiwar groups in Florida, Baxter said the Network now has 135 members on its e-mailing list. Even with small numbers, Baxter is prepared, as in previous campaigns, to pursue peace until the bombings cease.
“You’ve gotta’ hope. No matter how impossible something like that is, you have to believe,” Baxter said.
In addition to opposing further military action in Afghanistan, the group also opposes retaliation against Arab-Americans and Muslims stateside and the restrictions on civil liberties proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft.