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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Our Town: Listening about peace Our Town: Listening about peace (February 20, 2002)

by Don Kazak

oon, Wednesday, Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto. It's a peaceful scene on a sunny, pleasant day.

Downtown workers and shoppers stream by on their way to lunch.

Some glance at a couple of portable tables set up in front of one of the benches, or at the banners and large peace flag. Some stop to talk. A few take a homemade cookie from a plateful.

It's a low-key deal.

The half-dozen or so peace activists wear handmade badges that proclaim them a "Listener."

And that's the whole idea, really. Not to get in people's faces, not to sell a viewpoint, but to listen to what people have to say about three questions:

-- "What do you think of the events of Sept. 11 and our government's response?"

-- "How do we defuse terrorism?"

-- "How can we make this a safer, better world for our children and all children?"

"We've had such varied responses," said Carol Brouillet. "People have disagreed but no one has been angry."

Brouillet, a Palo Altan and longtime member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, is the force behind the Wednesday efforts to get people to talk about terrorism and peace.

"Carol is very dynamic, the force behind this," said another activist, George Johnson, a Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans for Peace.

Brouillet started the Wednesday lunchtime efforts at the plaza, at University Avenue and Emerson Street, about a month after the cataclysmic events of Sept. 11.

With President Bush's approval-rating in the stratosphere, with the Taliban disbanded and al Qaeda on the run or in the shadows, talking about peace may seem to be a pointless exercise for some people.

But what people say gets written down in a book, and Brouillet keeps track of the responses.

Not everyone is happy about the continued bombings in Afghanistan, but it's one of those situations where even some longtime peace activists have flown the flag after Sept. 11.

Most of those who stop to talk are probably sympathetic to some degree, so it's a self-limiting sample. Brouillet said only one woman thought the military response was appropriate.

But others don't stop. One woman, looking at the flags and banners from a distance, said she was turned off by the effort. She looked at one of the banners, which read, "Another World is Possible," and got angry.

The Veterans for Peace banner is the most striking. A big, black cloth with white lettering, it has the lyrics to the famous Edwin Starr song: "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing."

George Johnson said a "street person" came by one Wednesday and, being a Vietnam vet, was offended by the banner. He was also feeling no pain, as they say. He came by again on this day, sober and supportive, and began singing the Edwin Starr song. Everyone smiled.

"Change happens one person at a time," Johnson said.

A Palo Alto parking monitor sat down for a long heart-to-heart with Brouillet. Later, a man with a pedigreed-looking boxer dog (with a choke chain) also sat and talked a while.

A sandwich board by the tables proclaimed the mission: "Listening for a Change."

In addition to the banners and peace flag (the American flag with a large peace symbol where the stars usually are), another pole held a two-sided poster: On one side was a large photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., and on the other was a large photo of Mahatma Gandhi.

The presence on the plaza is so low key that the only time Brouillet or Johnson or the others talk to people is when people speak to them first, maybe to ask a question.

It's the peaceful way to talk about peace, as it were.

It's hard to argue about the need for peace. But few people, even in Palo Alto, are all that upset by America's military response to Sept. 11. Was there another way to deal with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

Now, curiously, an American from Marin county is on trial for being a member of the Taliban, having been trained in one of bin Laden's terrorist camps. Is the young man guilty of treason?

There are many hard questions with no easy answers, at least for some of us.

But talking, and listening, about peace can't hurt.

Don Kazak is a Weekly senior staff writer. E-mail him at [email protected]


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