You can see it in Juniper Manifest’s eyes. The 20-year-old from Carmichael (suburb of Sacramento) is very concerned about her country attacking Iraq. So she is going public, joining “old heads’ from the 1960s and others. Manifest is one of many young people energizing the growing anti-war movement in the U.S.
“Unless I make my opinion known to my government, and to my fellow citizens, it counts for nothing,” Manifest said. “I don't want to stand idly by while people kill and are killed. I'm doing what I can for what I believe, and to prevent the truly horrendous future I fear will be the consequence of a mindless war.”
Building a better future is what compels her and other anti-war activists born a generation ago. Their backgrounds are similar and diverse. For example, some have served in the armed forces abroad.
Ryan Wiggins is a 24-year-old from San Diego who attends the University of California at Davis. Four years of duty in the Navy stationed in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in part led him to protest U.S. Iraq policy in San Francisco on Jan. 18. Crucially, he is bothered by the absence of humanizing detail about the people of the Middle East.
“People in that part of the world want the same things as people do everywhere,” Wiggins said. “Here, there’s a need for more education about the Middle East and Islamic culture.”
Mari Wright is an 18-year-old student at La Costa Canyon High School (suburb of San Diego). She edits the school paper and feels compelled to speak out on behalf of those whose voices aren’t being heard in the U.S., such as Iraqi civilians.
“I don’t think it’s right for such a powerful nation as ours to go in and kill Iraqis,” Wright said at the beginning of the Jan. 18 anti-war rally in S.F. An upcoming issue of her school paper will cover the event, the first mass anti-war rally that she has attended.
Under the current U.N. weapons inspection process, Iraq is being forced to prove a negative. What do young anti-war activists think about the White House’s view that the U.N. finding no evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction doesn’t prove that such weapons don't exist in the Persian Gulf nation?
“The Bush administration is playing a contradictory policy game that muddles things,” said Wiggins. “A lot of young people don’t understand what’s going on. Still, lots of them feel that it’s time for the U.S. to do things correctly, and not to just go and fight.”
Why? Perhaps some youth are in a better position than their elders to see the inconsistencies in U.S. Iraq policy.
“Young people are more curious than people who have been in the system longer,” Wright said.
Besides curiosity, the threat of war also breeds a sense of national unity among the young. This trend cuts both ways, to peace and its opposite.
“I think by becoming activists—and, as much as I disagree with the choice, by joining the military to support this war—young people are finding the sense of community and purpose that we've so long lacked,” Manifest said. “Both sides see themselves as fighting to protect what past generations fought for, and to keep the world we are rapidly inheriting intact for ourselves and future generations.”
Like other young people before them, anti-war youth today experience changing relations with family and friends. Such was the case during the movement to end the U.S. war against Vietnam, and this trend exists now.
Just ask Maria York, a 24-year-old office worker at UC Davis who hails from Rochester, New York.
“My family is lower middle-class and tends to be more conservative, politically, economically and spiritually,” she said. “Our talk about Iraq is always contentious. My parents support me but don’t understand my activism.”
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. cast no small shadow here.
“Republicans give them a sense of security, but it’s superficial,” York added. “Their security needs are different than mine.”
In some U.S. high schools, supporting the humanity of a group of people who are the collective object of scorn can be a minority position.
“My affluent and conservative classmates disagree with me,” Wright said. “Lots of people I know think that after Sept. 11, 2001, all Arab and Muslim people are terrorists.”
She doesn’t. And her anti-war activism has swayed one family member.
“My mom, who’s from a small, sheltered Midwest town, has become more open to different political views since I’ve become politically active,” Wright said.
Manifest has a close friend who is puzzled by her anti-war activism. He wonders why she bothers to protest the U.S. war on Iraq.
“He's deeply saddened at the looming possibility of war but thinks that my actions are futile,” she said. “He doesn't believe that one person can effect change.”
Anti-war youth confront such a lack of hope about the future. For Manifest, such despair is understandable, but not inevitable. That’s where walking the talk of peace comes into play.
“I have my own fears about the futility of my protests,” Manifest said. “But if I stand by and say nothing, I've as good as supported this war. It's because I love these people, even the ones who argue about it with me, that I make the efforts I do.”
As the Bush administrations builds up a U.S. armada in the Persian Gulf for a possible attack on Iraq sooner than later, Manifest and thousands of other youth protested for peace across the U.S. on Jan. 18. They are lending a vitality to an anti-war movement that is growing broader and deeper with each passing day.
Seth Sandronsky is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org