Venice Peace Marches Become Historic
By Jim Smith
It’s Sunday afternoon. Usually I’d be out marching for peace on the ocean front with friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, the Venice Peace Movement’s weekly march and rally died a peaceful death at age 94 (weeks) in August. The marches had started dwindling in recent weeks as Iraq and peace issues faded in importance to many. Finally, everyone decided to give the marches a rest - at least until Bush’s next war.
It had been an eventful 94 weeks. We started marching the Sunday after the bombing of Afghanistan began. Most of us thought two wrongs don’t make a right. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were horrible, but no justification for bombing innocent women, men and children in Afghanistan.
That first march was dramatic. We didn’t know if we’d be beaten up before we got a block. The whole country seemed to be in a patriotic (emphasis on riot) frenzy. Did that apply in Venice, too? Just in case, Grace brought her boom box and played Imagine by John Lennon as we marched (it had been banned by some radio stations because of the war hysteria).
Imagine there's no countries,
It isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion too,
Imagine all the people
living life in peace...
We started down the walk from Rose and ran into what we hadn’t expected - cheers. It seems that the war hysteria was really a media hysteria, as least as far as Venice was concerned. It was so much fun (and felt meaningful) that we decided to do it all over again the next Sunday.
One thing led to another, and soon we had the march and the rally rolling like clockwork - only a half hour later. Venice time, we told newcomers. We got a banner that said “Venice Peace Movement,” and we were set. The Venice Peace and Freedom Party helped with turnout and expenses. We asked other organizations and parties to co-sponsor, but nobody responded. For a few months after we started our community marches, everyone else seemed too busy organizing sporadic Southern California-wide marches that attracted thousands of people.
While our lil’ Venice march never attracted thousands, it did let us influence millions, thanks to the crowds on the Boardwalk and the constant video taping by camera crews from as far away as Norway and Japan. Not only Venetians, but most tourists seemed to respond to our music, War, what is it good for? by Edwin Starr; Ain’t gonna study war no more, by Dr. Loco; and Lennon’s Imagine and Give Peace a Chance, to name a few of the tunes that floated down the Walk every Sunday.
We kept saying at our rallies that people had to “Act Global, Think Local.” To the many non-Venetians who came to join us, we said, welcome, now go and start a weekly peace event in your neighborhood. Before long, there were four or five people who did just that. Then the numbers mushroomed. At the height of the anti-Iraq war movement, there were more than a hundred weekly marches, vigils and demonstrations around SoCal. And it all started right here in Venice!
Like the post office, we were out there every Sunday. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these peace couriers from the completion of their march and rally. We didn’t run into any snow, but a few driving rain storms, a lot of wind and some really hot days (but not as hot as in Iraq, we reminded ourselves).
The rallies were really memorable. The usually began, “Welcome to Venice, the once and future city of peace. There are more peace signs in Venice, per capita, than any other city in the country!” Daring to be democratic, we had open-mic rallies where anyone could sign up and speak for up to five minutes. Those few pro-war people who could string a sentence together were allowed their say. Many of our regular marchers started out being to shy to speak but became pretty-good “stump” speakers before it was over.
Many years ago, Pershing Square, in downtown L.A., was known for its free-speechers who would entertain and educate people about socialism, prohibition or current events. For 94 weeks, Venice revived that spirit with our open-mic rallys at Windward and Ocean Front Walk. As we told people, we took the Bill of Rights out for a walk every Sunday!
(There’s an excellent article on the Sunday marches - too long to reproduce here - by Bronwyn Mauldin. It’s on the internet: <www.freevenice.org/VPM-Communique.html>.
Posted: Mon - September 1, 2003 at 04:11 PM