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Photographs by Shawn-Paul Gilbert

Pride and Protest

California and Silicon Valley are hotbeds of discontent and mistrust over threatened invasion of Iraq

AS NATIONAL and international opposition to the president's planned invasion of Iraq came to the surface this past weekend in a spate of antiwar protests, a groundswell of opposition is also growing in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, among people of all socioeconomic levels and political persuasions.

In a place experiencing the largest economic slowdown in the nation, where the cost of living remains among the highest, there is increasing doubt and opposition to President Bush's threatened invasion of Iraq and stated "war on terror."

And despite the climate of revenge inflicted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, people are not afraid of being labeled un-American or unpatriotic for expressing their opinions.

"Standing up and speaking out is the American tradition," said Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, whose first action as president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors was to introduce a resolution opposing pre-emptive military action against Iraq. "We will not be silent any longer."

The measure, which Alvarado said was inspired by "diverse and widespread" constituent requests, is in legislative committee and will go to the county board for a vote at the end of this month.

Anti-invasion protests over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend drew hundreds of thousands of protesters to sites around the world, including San Francisco and downtown San Jose. In a protest organized by Richard Ajluni, protesters marched from Saint James Park to Plaza de Cesar Chavez, where a speaker podium was surrounded by tombstones bearing the faces of Iraqi children.

Ken Podgorsek, 42, attended Saturday's event with his two kids, aged 8 and 2. A downtown neighborhood activist, Podgorsek considers himself a moderate and says although he supported the Desert Storm invasion and the "rousting of Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan," following the 9/11 attacks, he is vehemently opposed to a United States invasion of Iraq.

"I back American ideals, and American ideals are not about placing us in the position of being the aggressor," he said. "If Iraq is a threat, I don't see it. Being a bully is not what we should stand for as a country." Podgorsek also feels it's "wrong for the country to spend $200 billion of our money" when so many domestic problems remain unsolved.

"We've got people losing their houses and having trouble feeding their kids. We can't even take care of our education and health-care problems or our senior citizens," he says. "We're giving away our children's moral and financial future."

A spokesperson from Alvarado's office said the supervisor has only received "a handful" of complaints from constituents who disagreed with her position and felt she was overstepping her bounds as a supervisor pushing for a local resolution on national affairs.

"My response is that this is a county issue," Alvarado said. "What happens in Washington affects every one of us. We are having to make huge budget cuts right now. A war will absorb so much money, and we'd be doing it with little or no help" she adds, referring to the lack of widespread international support for the invasion.

'Standing up and speaking out is the American tradition. We will not be silent any longer.' --Blanca Alvarado (above), President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

On Jan. 13, USA Today and other mainstream media released poll results showing that the president's approval rating has fallen to its lowest level since the 9/11 attacks, from 90 percent to 58 percent. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said the president was not paying enough attention to the economy, and approval of his handling of foreign affairs (in the week following the Korean standoff and a U.N. report that little or nothing has been found during weapons inspections of Iraq) dropped to 53 percent.

The turning tide of sentiment has been obvious to Les Gelb, president of the conservative and powerful Council on Foreign Relations, who was frustrated and concerned enough to write on the organization's website, "I have encountered enormous opposition to my terribly persuasive arguments. ... Eighty to 90 percent of audience members were against an invasion [of Iraq]." He wrote this in reference to his speaking tour in six American cities, adding that conversations with senators and congressional leaders have yielded similar stories. He said the administration needs to produce a "smoking gun" proving that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or that it is a threat to the region in order to convince Americans.

An Internet group called MoveOn.org launched a television ad campaign last Thursday, using the famous 1960s ad showing a little girl in a field of daisies followed by the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion that was used by Lyndon Johnson's campaign against Barry Goldwater. The group reported that it had hoped to raise $23,000 for the antiwar spots, but 10,000 members responded and raised $400,000. Californians contributed the highest amount of any state, according to MoveOn.org, with contributions of $249, 402.

"I haven't found anybody who thinks Saddam is a great guy. But this conflict is very different from the first time around ... where he attacked a defenseless country to remove the rights of citizens of that country," commented Podgorsek. "There's no moral objective this time around. It's wrong, and if we're going to take that stance, nobody is going to trust us."

Alvarado concurred that trust in America's leadership has been eroded internationally--and domestically.

"We're at a place where we don't know what to believe, or who to believe anymore. There is so much information that you wonder how it is being crafted to be fed to the masses. You feel so much distrust and disbelief by what you see and hear," she said. "Who do you believe anymore?"

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From the January 23-29, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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