As America mourned those lost on 9/11, hundreds of left-wing "peace activists" gathered Tuesday evening at the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles to trumpet their opposition to the War on Terrorism. The California Green Party's 2000 US Senate nominee Medea Benjamin led off the event and electrified the crowd by charging that the Bush Administration "wants to manipulate the fear of the American people, wants to cover up the scandals of Enron and Halliburton and [deafening audience reaction], wants to play politics with the November election, and in the process of doing that is selling us a war." "There is no moral authority coming from this White House," she insisted. "And while we do not have the right to change the regime in other countries, I think that we do have the right to [an explosion of clapping and whooping]." She declared, "Power to the peaceful! Let's make a regime change!"
Benjamin attacked President Bush for failing to attend the recent United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, and her listeners applauded and cheered as she noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell was booed and jeered when he spoke to the UN delegates. In addition, she castigated Bush for his refusal to sign numerous international treaties, and she especially reproached the President for his unwillingness to submit the United States to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer said that Bush Administration policy is based on "a cleverly woven tissue of lies." He apologized to his audience that he "would have been very happy if Bill Clinton's missiles had actually hit bin Laden and killed him and the people around him." But he labeled the terrorist "a monster of our own creation," and he criticized US security agencies for failing to anticipate last year's attacks. Scheer explained, "The tragedy of Bush's position is there's not a shred of evidence connecting Saddam Hussein with the events of September 11." And, "because we have not captured bin Laden…we pick this guy [Hussein] out there." He continued, "Your old man failed to knock him off when he had the chance. You know, everybody now thinks it's going to be one of those easy wars. You go in, and everybody will forget about how the tax cut failed." Scheer praised the Germans and French, who resist US war plans, but he disparaged the English as "such kiss asses." Decrying the proliferation of nuclear weapons, he expressed the hope that one day a US President would say, "I feel deeply ashamed that my nation is the only one that has ever used them."
Rev. Dr. George F. Regas, retired Rector of Pasadena's large and wealthy All Saints (Episcopal) Church, told the crowd, "Religious communities must stop blessing war and violence. We disavow the path that affirms that grief must lead to war. We refuse to accept violence as the necessary consequence of our tragic loss." He lectured President Bush, "It is not appropriate to call for vengeance [and] to call for more suppression of our civil liberties [and] to call for more unconstitutional practices…." (In the 1980s and early 1990s Regas was well known in Southern California for his opposition to Reagan-Bush policies. At that time his church had a club called "Friends of the Soviet Union." After the people of the USSR overthrew communism, the group was re-christened "Friends of the Former Soviet Union.")
An impassioned Maria Elena Durazo, President of Hotel and Restaurant Employees Local 11, condemned the federal government's treatment of illegal immigrants, some of whom had been employed at the World Trade Center. She also assailed law enforcement authorities for having arrested foreign workers for using false Social Security numbers and suggested that they should take into custody "the real criminals, and start with Enron and other corporate executives."
Holman United Methodist Church pastor and African-American community leader, Rev. James Lawson, asserted that "the transnational corporation Hilton was determined to use workers as pawns, that they would not receive the blessings of their sweat." He claimed that threats of nationwide demonstrations resulted in the company's cooperation with union negotiators. Lawson said the lesson to be learned from this episode is that, "If we organize and if we work, we can change the George Bush Administration from an administration of war and corruption to an administration of peace and truth and justice and democracy."
Rabbi Allen I. Freehling, Chairman of the Human Relations Commission of the City of Los Angeles, excoriated Attorney General Ashcroft for his alleged racial and ethnic profiling. Two Arab-American speakers lauded the teachings of Islam and defended themselves and other Muslims against unfair insinuations of disloyalty. Two representatives of a group of terror victims' relatives operating under the name "September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows" presented a short video that described that organization's efforts to oppose US foreign policy and focused on the loss of civilian lives resulting from Allied military action in Afghanistan. Actress Alfre Woodard read passages from the texts of various religions at points throughout the evening.
The rally's sponsors included the ACLU of Southern California, Americans for Democratic Action of Southern California, the Nation Institute, and an alliance styling itself "Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace." According to its literature ICUJP opposes the War on Terrorism for several reasons, among them: "It has devastated an already impoverished and desperate country [Afghanistan]," and "It does not address the root causes of the terrorists' desperate acts, which are poverty, injustice, and wrongheaded US policies in the Middle East, Central Asia, and elsewhere."