The torpid state of the antiwar movement could be gauged in microcosm Thursday on a remote San Diego County baseball field just a quarter-mile away from the United States-Mexico border.
On a cool, breezy afternoon in the gritty, teeming gateway town of San Ysidro, members of the World March for Peace and Nonviolence made a brief stop to call for the creation of a “zone of nonviolence” around the border region as part of a broader global initiative to end war, hunger and nuclear proliferation, among other issues.
The World March is a rag-tag caravan of hardcore activists on a three-month-long trek from New Zealand to Argentina under the auspices of World Without Wars, an international peace group sponsored by the Humanist Movement.
Supporters of the march include such left or liberal luminaries as Noam Chomsky, Jane Fonda, Isabelle Allende and Pedro Almodovar.
So, it would have seemingly been a prime moment for the area’s antiwar partisans to rally in force in support of the processions’s noble aims, especially just two days after President Barack Obama announced he was racheting up the war in Afghanistan with the addition of about 30,000 U.S. troops, over and above the 68,000 U.S. soldiers already in place there.
The event nevertheless drew only about 50 people, some of them volunteers in the World March movement itself.
“This just hasn’t stirred people’s imaginations yet,” lamented Carol Jahnkow, executive director of the Peace Resource Center of San Diego.
Jahnkow, a veteran antiwar activist who was waving a rainbow-colored flag emblazoned with the word “Peace” in the middle of the baseball diamond, added that 70 demonstrators had massed on short notice the night before at the office of Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., to protest the pending escalation of the Afghanistan conflict.
Other activists at the march speculated that the low turnout at Thursday’s event was the result of many liberals still giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, even as he steps up the war’s intensity with the faint promise to eventually end it.
Certainly, the World March has drawn substantial attention in other areas of the country and world as it proceeds on its heartening, if quixotic, mission.
Last month, 1,200 people showed up to troop with marchers across the Brooklyn Bridge, organizers said.
And the World March estimates that 10,000 people congregated at one of its rallies in Spain, with another 12,000 assembling for a demonstration in the Philippines.
Moreover, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations’ general secretary, met with World March members in New York City earlier in the week to endorse the group’s goals.
The march kicked off in New Zealand on October 2 – Gandhi’s birthday – with the intent of traversing nearly 100,000 miles through 100 countries before it concludes on Mount Aconcagua in the Argentinian Andes on January 2.
About 30 marchers were on hand at the start of the long walk in New Zealand, although only five of them are expected to go the entire distance without a break.
The others are rotating in and out of the march schedule, and all intend to reunite at march’s end, organizers said.
Five marchers were at Thursday’s sparse gathering, delivering rousing calls to worldwide demilitarization.
Tony Robinson, 41, an IT consultant from Great Britain, said he expects to spend $10,000 of his own money walking his way along much of the march’s itinerary, which has included stops in Australia, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Turkey and Germany.
“The march is a whisper at the moment,” said Robinson, staring at the small crowd listening to a speaker. “The problem is, peace doesn’t sell newspapers.”
Following the Thursday rally, marchers and supporters crossed the border from San Ysidro into Tijuana for still another assembly, which one organizer said was expected to draw between 500 and 1,000 supporters – including a welcoming group of Aztec dancers.
FRANK GREEN is a veteran journalist and lives in the San Diego area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org