Exit Strategy

Photo by Sean DuFreneIf you've driven past South Coast Plaza on a Friday evening or along Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach on a Saturday afternoon—or if your daily commute has taken you through any of a half-dozen other major Orange County intersections during the past year—you know that the anti-war movement is alive and well in John Wayne country.

We spoke to Jarret Lovell, a Cal State Fullerton professor and Orange County Peace Coalition activist, about how the anti-war movement became one of the biggest stories of 2003, and what activists are planning for 2004.

Perhaps we should start with the fact that the peace movement failed to stop the war in Iraq. So why are people still protesting?

There is always both a manifest and a latent goal in any social struggle, but particularly with the peace movement. One is to stop a war or prevent a war. But a latent goal is to mobilize large groups of people to bring about meaningful, long-term change. I cringe when I hear news of casualties on either side, but as the war continues to go poorly—and it is going poorly—it gives me, as a member of the peace movement, confidence that I was on the right side of the issue.

But you say you want peace. So, concretely, what would you advise? That the U.S. military in Iraq simply load up its weapons and fly the hell back home?

Absolutely not. I've been to peace conferences where speakers say, “The U.S. must get out of Iraq now!” And I'm scratching my head and saying, “This doesn't make any sense.” You don't bomb a country's infrastructure—its electrical, water and sanitation—and then walk away and let [its people] fend for themselves. That would be absolutely abhorrent behavior. But we cannot pretend that Iraq is ours. We cannot dictate the terms of its reconstruction.

So what does it mean to say you want peace?

The answer to that is something that is quite divisive in the peace movement. There are those who want the U.S. out and the UN in. There are others who believe that any force other than an Iraqi force is an occupier. I believe if we agree that we'll no longer dictate the terms of reconstruction, the international community would step in.

What was the biggest accomplishment for the OC peace movement in 2003?

Visibility. There was hardly a pocket of Orange County that we didn't target for vigils, rallies, petition-signing, teach-ins, you name it. We made our presence known everywhere, whether at the Nixon Library, the Irvine Spectrum, or at the OC Fair. We even targeted the entrance to Disneyland with signs declaring, “It's Goofy to Bomb Iraq!” Our visibility made the peace movement contagious because we were sending a message to residents of Orange County skeptical of the war that they were not alone. That's why some 2,000 residents showed up at Hart Park in Orange on February 15, a number that even the Registercould no longer ignore.

What was the biggest failure?

Like the Pentagon, the OC peace movement didn't really devise a strategy for what to do after the bombing commenced. It took us time to regroup both emotionally and strategically. In the future, we need to stay one step ahead of the war machine.

What's the greatest challenge facing the peace movement in 2004?

Unity. As the presidential election approaches, unity will be our biggest challenge. Not only are there several Democratic candidates claiming to be for peace, but the peace movement is also comprised of many working within the Green Party. Some within the peace movement subscribe to the “anyone but Bush” mentality. Others believe that it is not merely enough to change the individuals responsible for war; we must also change the institutions responsible for war. The 2004 presidential election, therefore, may prove to be quite divisive.

Any plans for larger demonstrations?

We are currently working on a big March 20 event to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the start of the war.

What's the best argument against the war that can be made to a suburban and mostly conservative audience?

There are countless arguments that tap into conservative ideals of morality, economics, and even isolationism. The war has been enormously costly and has produced an ever-growing deficit, it has expanded our role as global police officers and has—through the Department of Homeland Security—increased the size of government, and—oh, yeah—it has killed both innocent Iraqis and American troops. Therefore, it's interesting to note how the Bush administration has been trying to convince the public that we've been given “real” and “meaningful” tax cuts at the same time that the administration has increased the deficit while cutting social services to finance their war. At the end of the day, we are still behind in the count economically—and we'll end up paying.

For a schedule of peace events, see ocpeace.org.

Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).

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