Saturday didn't start off too well for San Diego's anti-war movement. A protest set for 8 a.m. outside the NBC studios downtown-intended as a critique of the media's lack of coverage of war opposition-yielded only two groups of four 20-somethings, one of which had questionable motives. The other quartet, however, had heard there'd be a large contingency from the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice who were, at that moment, organizing a float for the 10 a.m. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade set to start from the county building and make its way to Seaport Village.
But even over at the county building main parking lot things didn't look promising for the war protestors. Confused-looking groups of mostly older adults, five or so here, a couple over there, seemed not to know quite what to do with themselves. Meanwhile, all around them the standard parade fare was getting its act together-high school bands, drill teams and dance troupes.
In the middle of the parking lot sat a small rented moving van. Scott Cosette busily taped signs and posters to the side of the truck, the largest of which bore a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today-my own government.” Cosette said he had asked for a flat bed truck for the parade, but when he showed up at Carl's Rental that morning, all they had was the moving van.
Cosette said he was a volunteer with the International Action Center as well as with A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism)-the same group organizing much larger protests that day in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and 32 other cities. He said a lot of his peers had jumped on busses to San Francisco, but he felt confident that enough had stayed behind to make a good showing in San Diego. As he taped more signs to the truck, a group of peaceniks began to gather to his right, the parking lot aisle serving as a barrier between them and the moving van. Cosette figured they were with the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice-then stopped to wonder if any of the A.N.S.W.E.R. people were among that group. “I hope in the end we'll all get together,” he said.
By 9:30 the number of anti-war protestors had climbed into the triple digits, the truck by then acting as a magnet, drawing people from other parts of the parking lot to join the critical mass. Signs, banners and t-shirts revealed that the growing crowd was made up of no less than 10 local leftie organizations-the Green Party, the San Diego Committee Against Police Brutality and the American Friends Service Committee, among others. One woman observed that groups formed something of a “cell,” mutating and then coming together. As the group solidified, however, it did what any quickly growing organism does-it began to affect its surroundings, which, in this case, comprised three dance troupes of black teenagers who tried their best to practice their moves amid the chaos.
As the group grew, so too did an odd juxtaposition. As the parade was in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the majority of youth marching in the parade were black. The anti-war protestors, on the other hand, were roughly 98 percent white. For one of the Bethel Baptist Hundredfold Youth Highsteppers, who were rehearsing their moves off to the side of the sign-holders, a group of white grown-ups marching in a predominantly black parade presented some initial confusion. “We don't need no protestors,” he barked. A girl in the next row quickly set him straight about the crowd's intent, at which time his disdain turned to approval.
In the middle of the anti-war crowd stood Ted Burnett, one of the non-white 2 percent. The obvious black-white divide to him represented a larger social epidemic. “Some people feel they don't want to come out of their safety zone,” he observed. “People think, ‘If I march with this group, I'll feel safe because I know everyone around me.'”
As he looked around at the kids practicing their routines, their coaches prepping them for the judging table, he wondered if the youngsters knew what it meant to honor the spirit of the civil rights movement.
“Maybe the black community hasn't done enough to teach the kids what Martin Luther King stood for,” he opined before fielding a cell phone call from a friend trying to find Burnett in the crowd.
By 9:45 it was time to get parade participants in line. Clipboard in hand, a parade organizer wandered through the crowd yelling for the different groups to separate themselves out from the others thereby ending, at least for awhile, Scott Cosette's hope for a united front.