Get on the Bus

For one fellow traveler, the road to an anti-war protest in Washington is paved with good intentions and bad politics

Avalos is new to activism, although she has always considered herself something of "a liberal." As a 12-year-old living in Texas City, her own views began to sharpen when her brother returned from Vietnam mentally broken.

"He would be sleeping on the couch and the slightest noise would cause him to jump," she says. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he was stalked by recurring nightmares of burning villages and slain Vietnamese children.

Avalos married after high school and eventually enjoyed the comfortable life of a Plano housewife, though her conservative friends would brand her their token "bleeding heart liberal." Her views were nothing radical; just a belief in a strong safety net for the poor, affordable housing, decent food.

Julie Ryan heads the North Texas Coalition for a Just 
Peace, a group that coalesced after 9/11 and seeks 
non-violent alternatives to dealing with terrorism.
Mark Graham
Julie Ryan heads the North Texas Coalition for a Just Peace, a group that coalesced after 9/11 and seeks non-violent alternatives to dealing with terrorism.
Dallas resident Heather Cannon protested the 
possibility of war in Iraq by marching in the local Martin 
Luther King Jr. parade on January 18.
Mark Graham
Dallas resident Heather Cannon protested the possibility of war in Iraq by marching in the local Martin Luther King Jr. parade on January 18.

In 1989, divorce changed her life, opening her mind and freeing her to seek other friends and ideas. She returned to college at UTD, where she would learn about the Dallas Peace Center.

Like so many new to the peace movement, she grew upset over the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. She attended meetings at the Peace Center in East Dallas, looking for ways to help, and grew friendly with Julie Ryan, the coordinator for the North Texas Coalition for a Just Peace.

As a single parent, Avalos was concerned about getting arrested for her activism, which is why she asked an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer to attend a coalition meeting on January 8 at the Peace Center.

Surprisingly, attorney Michael Linz chastised the group for its one act of civil disobedience, which occurred when Ryan led several dozen protesters inside SMU's Moody Coliseum in November and interrupted President Bush's speech by shouting anti-war slogans. Sounding far too Bush-like for the group, Linz insisted that the American bombing of Afghanistan was an appropriate response to the "evil" posed by Osama bin Laden. Grumbling from the peacemakers turned almost hostile.

"The real axis of evil is the government," said Michael Machicek, a barefoot '60s retread who could scarcely contain his contempt. "It's in the executive branch, the legislative branch and the boardroom."

"We do ourselves a disservice if we think people in the legislative and executive branch are evil," defended Linz. "Perhaps they are just misinformed."

"If Al Qaeda is evil for killing innocents," argued a bookish-looking high-schooler, "why isn't the U.S. evil for killing innocents?"

Linz had misread his audience. Many in this group were anti-war hardcore, but for them to be so dismissive of a civil libertarian because he held a nuanced view of American foreign policy certainly didn't bode well for the inclusive peace movement they envisioned building in conservative Dallas.

Longtime activists say Dallas has little tolerance for dissent; they jokingly call it a "warm-bed of activism," "a city whose civil rights movement was more akin to a civil right movement." It's the image-conscious Dallas with its myriad defense contractors, they argue, that sees anti-war protests as being bad for business. "The North Texas metroplex is just too narcissistically obsessed with organized sports and shopping," says Lon Burnam, the executive director of the Dallas Peace Center. "People are basically apolitical and don't take time to focus on the big issues of the day."

Michael Phillips, a professor of history at UT-Austin, faults the city's "origin myth,"--the belief that business leaders created a city with no reason for being other than business--for helping stifle dissent. "If you are taught to believe that all the good things in Dallas are the result of the status-quo business leadership, then you are going to be discouraged from engaging in dissent."

The Dallas Citizens Council, the oligarchy that once ran this town, tried to manage the local civil rights movement as they might a business. Committees of black and white activists were formed to study the problems of segregation, cooperation was rewarded, confrontation practically outlawed. Although sit-ins and protests could not be held in check forever, they were meek by northern standards.

"Because Dallas never had any race riots during the civil rights era, its leaders felt they dodged a bullet," Phillips says. "But they still fear if the genie of dissent is ever let loose, the entire city will explode."

Certainly that fear was never realized during the Vietnam War. Beginning in 1970, a small group of people met at the Kennedy Memorial for a Saturday-morning vigil to protest the war, but its tone was indicative of Dallas activism: silent, peaceful, unobtrusively done on a weekend. Although other groups were more confrontational, the Dallas response to the Vietnam War was at best tepid. A few marches took place at hippie-haven Lee Park, a quiet protest at SMU, but no mass rallies or hostile student strikes.

The response in Austin was a different story. After the U.S. bombing of Cambodia in 1970, 20,000 people marched around the Capitol to protest the war. I was there, my hair long, my temper short, radicalized by my government instructor, a sizzling socialist who convinced me the war was immoral, unjustified, a brazen act of American imperialism. I flashed the peace sign to a camera crew that had set up on the sidewalk. That evening my father phoned me. I had made the 6 o'clock news in Dallas. "If you ever march again," he told me, "I'll cut off your legs."

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