Profiles in Protest

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BANNER: Meeker takes cover in one of her handmade peace quilts

A former fourth-grade teacher who sews quilts for peace, a 24-year-old who is the closest thing to a professional pacifist, a Gulf War veteran who is trying to rally his brethren against Gulf War II — these are the new faces of the peace movement, a motley collection of activists who would seem to have little chance of changing popular sentiment but have started to make their voices heard all the same. Some protests have been hard to miss, like the Oct. 26 march on Washington that drew 100,000 people. But for months the antiwar movement has been churning in smaller, less clamorous ways. In Dallas antiwar protesters wore yellow ribbons and read poetry at the city's cultural festival; in Miami a dozen people wave NO WAR signs on U.S. 1 every Friday during rush hour. This week several peace groups plan to stage protests in at least 15 states — but don't expect the spectacle of Vietnam War — era rallies. "You can't burn a flag here," says Anne Marie Weiss-Armush, a longtime Dallas peace activist. "Here people are very image conscious, and the image of peace protesters is very weird."

For folks like Weiss-Armush, that's a challenge. At a time when most Americans view the war on terrorism as self-defense and close to two-thirds support a military campaign to remove Saddam Hussein, members of the antiwar movement have to be careful to avoid drifting even further outside the mainstream. "There are a lot of people who may say they are against the war but are in no mood to be politically demonstrative about it," says Columbia University sociology and journalism professor Todd Gitlin, a 1960s student-protest leader. "And so you can't simply argue that the U.S. poisons everything it touches. The left-wing sectarian style is an impediment to moving it to a larger public."

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While no amount of protest is likely to have much effect on whether the Administration decides to go to war, the movement could still push legislators to speak out if the fighting goes badly. Activists say they are slowly building a diverse constituency of dissent, one that includes labor unions, the National Council of Churches and Gulf War veterans' groups. Interviews by Time across the U.S. show that a wide variety of Americans have joined the antiwar campaign. Here are some of their stories:

The Debater
Santiago Leon, 57

Tall and slender, distinguished by a thoughtful reserve and slightly unkempt gray hair, Santiago Leon walks and talks more like a New England college professor than a Miami rabble rouser. In 1990 he gave up his career as a lawyer because selling insurance sounded more exciting. And yet, throughout his life, Leon has been drawn to protest. In the '80s, he led the Dade County Citizens for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze. This fall, with fellow members of the Coral Gables Congregational Church and other like-minded people, he helped launch Concerned People Opposed to War in Iraq. Leon prefers intellectual debate to raucous protest. In September Leon's church brought together Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to debate religious philosophies toward war, and he has since helped convene teach-ins at local colleges. "My preference is not really for massive demonstrations," he says. "They have a limited use in terms of persuading people who are not already persuaded."

Leon supported the Clinton Administration's interventions in the Balkans and the U.S. war in Afghanistan, though he says he is "not 100% [certain] it was the right thing to do." On the issue of Iraq, he sides with critics of Bush who say a war will distract from the more immediate priority of defending the country from terror attacks. "The idea is to get people to think about things on a factual level," he says. "Would a war in Iraq actually contribute to national security or not? What should we be doing to make ourselves safer?" Leon recognizes that the peace movement is battling from behind and that evidence of Iraqi mischief could yet turn some activists into reluctant supporters of war. "What if the Iraqis are not in compliance with the Security Council resolution?" he says. "It is going to be interesting to see what we all continue to agree on."

The Convert
Judith Meeker, 48

Like many Americans, Judith Meeker felt her life change as soon as she heard about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But she never guessed that one year later it would lead her to spend two rainy days fasting in front of the White House in protest against the President's threat to attack Iraq. Meeker worries about terrorism, and she thinks anti-American anger will only increase if the U.S. tries to remove Saddam with military force. "I've been wondering for months how we went from al-Qaeda to Iraq," she says. "I don't disagree that Saddam has done horrible things, but we need to look at the things we've done also."

For Meeker, the war on terrorism has awakened a dormant activist spirit. She protested against the Vietnam War and marched against apartheid, but in recent years she has devoted her energies to raising her four children and teaching fourth grade in Brentwood, Tenn. After Sept. 11, disturbed by anti-Muslim sentiments voiced by her students, she assigned her class to make a quilt to send to the children of Afghanistan. The idea was so popular that Meeker quit her teaching job and founded Quilts for Peace, a nonprofit group that has sent 50 quilts to war zones around the world.

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