Antiwar Activists Plan to Stay The Course
Women Settling In For Four-Month Vigil

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 18, 2002; Page B05

Women from the Washington area and across the country gathered in front of the White House yesterday to kick off a four-month, 24-hour vigil to protest the possible war with Iraq.

"We feel that this is a time when our country is in great danger," said organizer Medea Benjamin, 50, of San Francisco. "The Bush administration has begun a course of militarism and violence that will beget more violence."

At least 30 women and a few men attended the rally, which started at Lafayette Square and moved along Pennsylvania Avenue NW -- a small presence compared with the tens of thousands who converged upon Washington last month to protest any military action against Iraq.

But yesterday's crowd said that what it lacked in numbers it would make up for in persistence.

At least six will stay in the park in four-day shifts until March 8, resting on the ground in sleeping bags or on benches, organizers said. Some said they will fast for days or even weeks. Many of the women wore pink jackets and buttons that read "Code Pink -- Women for Peace."

"Bush says Code Red; we say Code Pink!" they shouted. "Women united -- We'll never be divided!"

Many were members of human rights or women's groups, such as the National Organization for Women. Others were simply mothers or grandmothers who wanted to let President Bush know that they don't want another war. They want money to go toward health care, education and other social services instead, they said.

"We are the mothers and wives and sisters of those who will be killed for oil," said Anise Jenkins, 53, a D.C. activist who works as a secretary.

Loree Murray, 81, sported a button that said "Hail to the Thief" above a picture of Bush. "The women, we're trying to teach peace. We're trying to teach the president something," the D.C. resident said.

The protest was peaceful, with a few police officers on hand to monitor activities. There were no counter-protesters, except for one man who walked past the group and shouted, "War will be declared on us even if we don't do anything."

Diane Wilson, 54, traveled from a small town in Bush's home state of Texas to participate in the vigil. A commercial fisherman who last year earned $12,000, she said she wants the Bush administration to spend more money on health care than war. She has never had health insurance. She plans to fast for 40 days and had her last meal -- several slices of pizza -- Saturday night.

"I want to tell Bush and Congress exactly how we feel in small-town America," she said.

Kristi Laughlin, a human rights activist from San Francisco, visited Afghanistan in June to see for herself the aftermath of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. She said Kabul looked like the site of an archaeological dig.

"To see where our money goes and the end result of our production of weapons and distribution of weapons, to me it was a sobering reality," she said.

Laughlin, 33, said that too often the Bush administration relies on aggression rather than negotiation. The money spent on military campaigns is needed elsewhere, she said, to help women and children.