As the third anniversary of the Iraq War approaches, a coalition of peace and political groups in the county is preparing an assault on it from all directions. The slow, steady erosion of Americans’ support for the war seems to be tied to a series of events and milestones — the surfacing of the Downing Street Memo in May of 2005, the appearance of Cindy Sheehan last summer, and the recent revelation of the government’s warrant-less wiretaps.

March 19 is the next milestone, and the Peace Coalition of Greater Ventura will seize the opportunity to remind the community-at-large that this war has gone on for three years. The coalition is organizing “Days of Action, Calls for Peace,” a diverse menu of no fewer than 16 events that will take place from March 11 to March 20. The scale of the program will be unprecedented for Ventura County. According to organizers, firsts will include a panel discussion on the war in Iraq and a peace parade down the center of Ventura’s Main Street.

Close to home

Although Baghdad is thousands of miles from Ventura, for some the war is very close to home. Ten of the more than 2,300 United States troops who have died in Iraq called Ventura County home; hundreds of residents are serving in the military in Iraq, and dozens have been wounded. So far, the United States has spent $240 billion on the Iraq War. Factoring in President Bush’s latest budget request, the resulting amount works out to over $4,000 per family of four in Ventura, and close to $1 billion for the county as a whole.

Different strokes

Among the array of events, the single departure from the anti-war theme will be the Town Hall Meeting that kicks off the series. The designation was carried over from the early planning, but “forum” might better describe it. This first-of-its-kind event in the county will feature a panel of prominent spokespersons who represent a range of views and perspectives on the war — its rationale, its impacts on Iraq and the world, and when and how to conclude it. Speakers from academia and the legal and political communities will include supporters of President Bush’s “stay the course, for as long as it takes” policies, as well as those who advocate an immediate exit from Iraq.

“This will be a unique opportunity for people to get both sides of the story in one place and at one time,” remarked Elise Davies, who’s in charge of organizing events for Ventura County for Democracy (VC4D). A particular challenge was enlisting supporters of the president’s policies. Davies and her fellow organizers contacted Republicans throughout the state for leads, starting with the local central committee. “Since we’re a progressive organization, it was hard to establish credibility with them, but we are serious about getting good panelists from both sides,” she noted.

David Maron, local anchor and host of KADL-TV’s Impact, will moderate the panel discussion, followed by input and questions from the public. Planned speakers include Kazem Alamdari, professor of sociology at California State University, Northridge and author of several books on his native Iran; Ventura City Councilman Brian Brennan, a voice of the community-at-large; Ferial Masry, Saudi-born teacher and former candidate for State Assembly; Stanilaus Pulle, dean of the Southern California Institute of Law and a constitutional law specialist; Michael Sinatra, University of California, Santa Barbara student and spokesman; and Ian Thompson, attorney and executive committee member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

The art of peace

The arts have long been a vehicle used to oppose war and “Days of Action, Calls for Peace” will include two art exhibits, a musical jam session and a film festival. One art exhibit will highlight Washington, D.C. artist Matt Sesow, whose poignant graphic appears on the promotional material for the events. A dehumanized, ghostlike figure with exposed bones protruding from its limbs dominates the piece. Rather than wearing a gas mask and goggles, the creature seems to have grown them as body parts. The fractured background depicts an erupting oil well and the words “Shock and Awe,” the U.S. strategy that seemed to work when Saddam’s troops melted away as coalition troops approached Baghdad, but ultimately failed to stop the resistance that fights on today.

The film series will run for three evenings. “Broken Silence,” five short films about courage, heroism, and triumph over adversities during World War II, will be presented one evening. Acclaimed directors collaborated with Executive Producer Steven Spielberg to present accounts from resistance fighters and Holocaust survivors from five countries — poignant lessons on the horrors of war that resonate in a world that seems to have forgotten them.

Taking it to the street — or the sidewalk

The most visible event will no doubt be the peace parade and rally scheduled to take place on March 18, the same day that anti-war events will be staged across the country.

Participants will gather at Mission Park at 1 p.m., and the parade will depart from the park at 2 p.m. The parade will end in Plaza Park, where the peace rally will follow.

Organizers hope that “Days of Action, Calls for Peace” will raise the consciousness of the undecided and the apathetic.