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One War, Lots of Reasons

Varied group of locals part of growing peace movement

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As President Bush's campaign against Saddam Hussein has escalated, so too has a loosely organized movement against the proposed war. Particularly during the past month, the voice of dissension against the war has grown in both number and diversity around the country. Unlike the Vietnam era anti-war movement, which didn't reach a substantial size until tens of thousands of American troops had been in battle for over a year, present-day protesters say they don't need to wait to know they oppose Bush's plans. In Charlotte, a coalition of groups continues to hold demonstrations and rallies. In January, several hundred local activists traveled to Washington, DC via bus convoy for a national anti-war march. The people involved in the local peace movement, as in much of the rest of the country, represent a broad range of interests and viewpoints. Here's a look at a few of them.

David Dixon, 34, is the coordinator for the Charlotte chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace and justice organization. He has lived in Charlotte for about 13 years. He says that as a teenager, the punk rock movement helped spark his interest in social and political issues.

While Dixon says he's long been involved with the Fellowship for Reconciliation, it wasn't until 9/11 that he started organizing peace demonstrations and marches. Dixon says that, locally, there are about 150 active Fellowship members, representing a very diverse segment of the population.

"Everyone gets involved for their own reasons," Dixon explains, "but one main point we have is that we need to strengthen the peace-making efforts within the UN, and support the rule of law rather than the rule of force."

Jibril Hough, 36, is a founding member of the Charlotte Coalition for Peace & Justice, and is active with the Islamic Center of Charlotte. Hough has lived in Charlotte most of his life, and grew up in a Methodist household; his grandfather was a Methodist minister. Hough says that following high school, his awareness of human rights was sparked by listening to politically and socially infused rap music. Following the Gulf War, he became particularly interested in what was happening in the Middle East, which resulted in a major life change.

"After the Gulf War, I did a lot of research and found out what Islam was, and became a Muslim in "91." Hough says he considers himself middle-of-the-road politically. "With Islam, some of the things we hold dear could be considered left, and some considered right. But I'm very much against the war and the erosion of our civil liberties. The war-mongering that Bush is doing is really the greatest threat to world peace."

Wally Kleucker, 55, is a father of three and another founding member of the Charlotte Coalition for Peace and Justice. He was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War and spent 17 years in Europe. He moved back to the US in 1989 and settled in Charlotte. Politically, he describes himself as a pacifist and a liberal.

"Whether you're a pacifist or not, it seems like all Americans should realize this war is unlike any we've had in the past," Kleucker says. "We have so many reasons to be against invading Iraq. There's the question of how many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian casualties will be incurred. It's a question of how many military casualties our people will sustain. And for what? To launch a pre-emptive invasion against Iraq would be a war crime. It is a grave departure from what other presidents have done, and something that we've told other countries they must never do."

Edith Garwood, 39, a mother of three, moved to Charlotte from Atlanta four years ago. She's a representative of Palestine Media Watch, an organization that monitors the news for fair and balanced coverage of Middle Eastern issues.

"We feel like American citizens are not getting a complete and balanced story about the Middle East," she says. Garwood has long been active in human rights issues, and says that while in college, she started her own local chapter of Amnesty International. It was also in college that Garwood became interested in Middle Eastern issues, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "For me, it all goes back to Palestine, and how it's been put on the back burner. The Middle East will never settle down until they really resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Garwood's interest in the Middle East also precipitated her meeting her husband. "My minor was in international affairs, and we had a contingency of Palestinian students. I went over and introduced myself, and that's how I met my husband."

Garwood's husband is a practicing Muslim, while she's a secular Christian, and although they disagree on some issues, "we've come together on the issue of the war."

Sheila Bumgarner, 44, who has lived in Charlotte 14 years, is a member of the local Quaker organization Charlotte Friends Meeting, and is clerk for the Peace and Social Concern Committee. Bumgarner adheres to the Quaker peace testimony that states Friends do not participate or support any kind of military action.

"We believe that the spirit of God is in everyone, and if you kill someone, you're killing a piece of God. It's a (belief) that we practice on a daily basis as well as through marches, letter writing campaigns and other movements. It's patriotic to want the best for your country, and we believe the best thing is to work toward peace in all areas of our lives."

Sean Brooks, 21, is a junior at Davidson College studying political science, and a member of the Young Democrats. This past summer he worked at the Arab-American Institute in Washington, DC and in December, returned from a three-month trip to India as part of a Davidson exchange program. Brooks says the anti-war movement at Davidson is still in the early stages, and students are in the process of organizing a formal group. "Everybody is talking about it," he says. "There seems to be a strong contingent against the war, but the overall mood is almost ambivalent right now. Lots of people are still waiting and being very cautious; they want to see all the evidence President Bush might have."

Brooks says he considers himself a liberal, and while he's always been interested in politics and international affairs, 9/11 caused him to start following the events in the Middle East more closely.

"Last spring I did a lot of activism in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Brooks says. "The protests weren't pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, it was more of a call to stop the killing, and to encourage the US government to step in and stop military incursions by Israel."

Anti-war groups are currently holding weekly demonstrations every Saturday in front of Eastland Mall from 12:30 to 1:30pm. On February 15, there will be a "Charlotte Says No to War" demonstration at Marshall Park. In addition, several Charlotte artists with a "Make Sweaters, Not War" attitude are hosting America's Knit-In, a silent protest against the war that will involve 24 hours of continual knitting, from 8pm February 14 through 8pm February 15. In Charlotte, knitters will work in the Hart-Witzen Gallery, and their proceeds will go to benefit the local community.

Contact Sam Boykin at (704) 944-3623 or sam.boykin@cln.com.

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