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The War on the Ground 

Wednesday, Oct 10 2001
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The peace movement — three Catholic Worker activists — held the corner of Los Angeles and Temple streets with a banner reading "Peace, Not War." Downtown was in lockdown this Columbus Day morning, with its courts and government centers barricaded and patrolled by police. Even the trusty parking-lot shortcut — between MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary, on Alameda Street, and East West Players, on Judge John Aiso Street — was blocked by cops. For a month, the ani mated TV-news banners had been charting the mad declension of events since September 11: America Attacked, America Coming Together, America Rising. All of which, inevitably, became Striking Back — and now, finally, it’s America at War.

Los Angeles didn’t feel any more warlike than usual, however, even with commencement of the Anglo-American bombardment of Afghanistan the day before, and even though POW flags fluttered — presciently? — above City Hall.

The Catholic Workers had been standing across from the downtown Federal Building every morning since September 12, and today were enjoying a pretty quiet time until a man driving a truck for a uniform-rental service hit the brakes in front of them. "What are we supposed to do — just let him get away with it and go on as usual?" he called out. "This isn’t about war!"

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The Catholics invited him to park and discuss the issue, but a cop came over and made the driver move on. It was an opportunity lost, for the man, although shouting, had not seemed angry, as though what he really wanted to do was talk — something increasingly rare when America was rising, and all but unheard of now that it is striking back. An Australian C.W. named Catherine pointed to Sunday’s tiny, 50-person peace vigil at the Westwood Federal Building, a gathering that got egged for its trouble.

Flying eggs have been the least of the peace movement’s worries as it tries to recover from the body blow of recent events and the seismic political shift they have caused. What could prove far worse is merely being ignored by America at war — an inability to connect, however fragilely, with people like the man delivering rentable uniforms.

Reach the writer at smikulan@laweekly.com

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