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Making signs of peace: anti-war activists rally

By Lena Warmack Special to the Daily Planet
Monday October 01, 2001

Local artists and residents gathered Friday night at the Pro Arts Gallery in Oakland to combine their energies to create posters, collages and pictures that represented their anti-war and peacemaking expressions in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

Much of the work was used at Saturday’s rally at Dolores Park in San Francisco. Other pieces were taken home to display in front of living room windows and posted on nearby telephone polls. 

“I think people really need the right to speak their minds,” said Betty Kano, Pro Arts executive director and a Berkeley artist. “People really respond to art and I think art really helps to heal people and it helps people to reflect and not to act so quickly.” 

Eager participants wrote down their ideas and thoughts on a sign-in sheet before joining others at a table covered in white butcher paper. At the table, people actively painted and cut out images from National Geographic magazine issues while music from KPFA played in the background. 

“Some phrases became very popular because people pick it up, it’s worth spreading and it brings up conversation,” Kano said.  

“War just makes things worse,” and “Peace is our purpose,” were some of the slogans painted in red, white, blue and black poster paint. 

“I’m really disheartened that there seems to be such a verbal rush to develop this plan to get the troops out and find all the terrorists,” said Joan Flores, 45, of San Lorenzo.  

“People in the U.S. are kind of on this band wagon to send the troops out, it’s really a scary thought. I think that media has been really skewed with reporting and I really question the media’s portrayal of the events,” Flores said, adding that she seeks out alternative radio stations for news coverage on Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

People talked about current and past political issues, and focused on the aftermath of the attacks.  

“We’ve lost a lot of people but it’s not just us it’s everybody involved,” said Gail Gove, an artist from Berkeley who had friends and acquaintances in New York City during the attacks on the World Trade Center but said retaliation is not the solution.  

“We have a tendency to see ourselves as individuals and see other groups as big threats,” she said. “So many people don’t understand what the bombings we’ve done in Iraq and I certainly don’t want to see that done to Afghanistan.” 

Kano said the idea for the art-making session developed after she attended a BART Alert rally. 

“It’s empowering to express yourself in this way,” Kano said, adding that by contributing artwork, citizens are playing an active role. “We’re making anti-war real.” 

Within a week’s time, Kano sought out donations for art supplies by contacting local galleries including Elida Scola and encouraged people to participate by through e-mails, fliers and by word of mouth.  

“It’s just very therapeutic to be with people,” said Judi Hirsch, an artist and middle school and high school teacher in Oakland. “War is tragic and absolutely not the thing to do,” Hirsch said. 

Pro Arts is a nonprofit, artist-based organization founded in 1974.