Are you doing a count? Im standing on my toes in front of Ripleys Believe It or Not! trying to estimate the number of peaceniks gathered at Hollywood and Highland on Saturday night, when a young man, eager to be quoted, stopped me. I got 3,000, he claims. I say its closer to 1,000, but he protests. Theres more over there, he says, pointing to the crowd gathered in from the Hollywood & Highland mall. And over there -- he gestures toward the west down Hollywood Boulevard. And look! A throng of sign bearers is making its way toward us across Highland Avenue. Its hard to nail it down, he admits. Everybody just keeps moving.
It was true. The L.A. ANSWER--organized candlelight peace vigil, the first of its kind to occupy a pedestrian-filled intersection, circulated steadily like a slow vortex around the four corners, blending imperceptibly with holiday shoppers, street vendors, and even the police, who appeared to be on hand only to pet all the dogs with peace signs hanging from their collars and make sure nobody got hit by a car. Touring the intersection was like moving through an anti-war fun house: In front of the Gap on the northwest corner, the Radical Teen Cheerleaders shouted their bouncy chants (S, dont buyS-U, dont fightS-U-Vs, waste gasNo war for oil!). Under the marquee of El Capitan, on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard, a posse of djembes and buckets took advantage of the acoustics and attracted all kinds of random women with shopping bags, who danced playfully in the drum circle. On the northeast corner, a young man named Don Flaherty assembled posters on sticks for the unprepared, and Mary Jacobs handed out elegant T-shirts silk-screened with a peace emblem shed paid an artist $800 to design. She asked $5, but if you didnt have it, you could still have a T-shirt. (Dont worry, you can mail it to me, she tells me as I dug for change in my wallet.)
It all made for an exuberant contrast with earlier demonstrations in front of the Federal Building on Wilshire, where activists often compete in vain with the steel and concrete for the attention of speeding motorists. If protesters couldnt actually stop traffic here in front of the Hollywood & Highland mall, they could at least slow it down, and their signs -- including BUSH KNEW and NO ONE WANTS WAR FOR CHRISTMAS -- were greeted with a steady pulse of honks. I asked a woman hawking flashy holiday-spirit buttons at a folding table whether the demonstration was hurting her business, deterring potential customers. Not at all! she exclaims. We love peace! Business tonight is better than ever!
This is really neat, says Betty McClellan, an activist who looked to be in her 50s, as we watched an SUV full of revelers slow down and give the thumbs-up sign. You sure wouldnt get that on Wilshire. We havent had one hassler here. McClellan had come from Claremont to get fresh inspiration for signage. We have a vigil every Friday in Claremont, at Indian Hill and Arrow, she tells me. Its traditional; it started back in Vietnam. But this one, she says, has an energy I havent seen at some of the others.
This is the most exciting Hollywoods been in years! chirps Jerry Rubin (not that one), director of the Los Angeles Alliance for Survival, who identifies himself on his business card as a peace activist. (Have No Gun Will Travel is his personal slogan.) Rubin was in a good mood; he gave me a big hug when I told him Im a journalist. I was on a fast from Gandhis birthday to Veterans Day, he tells me, because I dont want to see more people come back in body bags.
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Oddly, Rubins remark seemed almost inappropriate amid the revelry: Despite the grim signs -- even despite the procession of Korean marchers demanding justice for the deaths of two schoolgirls killed by American soldiers in a traffic accident -- it was somehow possible to forget that we may be on the eve of the worlds most terrible war. I wondered whether wed look back on this time, a year from now, as the last age of innocence.