The Antiwarriors

Riding shotgun with Broward County's tiny but angry peace movement

The Iraq talk revived the Broward Antiwar Coalition, but the October 14 meeting showed that the group isn't exactly kicking. I walked into the couch-strewn GLCC building and found no meeting. I queried strangers about it; soon a bald, bespectacled man noticed me and rose from one of the couches. It was Paul Lefrak. He was alone.

"This is very disappointing," he said.

I was the only one who showed. I couldn't help feeling sorry for Lefrak, who works hard to organize the movement. To be fair, the group usually brings in five to twenty local protesters during its periodic rallies at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. But the Broward County group seems to lack a certain oomph.

Scenes from the front lines
Al Crespo
Scenes from the front lines
Sarah Iglesias holds a heavy sign as protesters begin to gather. Sheila Bath (inset) communes with the angel.
Bob Norman
Sarah Iglesias holds a heavy sign as protesters begin to gather. Sheila Bath (inset) communes with the angel.

To his credit, Lefrak has created an impressive electronic antiwar community on Yahoo (antiwarbroward@yahoogroups.com), which is where I learned of the D.C. bus ride. The first message about it came from a Miami Beach woman named Sara Iglesias, who planned the trip with the help of the national group that sponsored the protest, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). But she was more than an organizer; she also served as a kind of cheerleader, typically ending her e-mails with sentiments like this one:

"People from all over the world are looking to the American citizens as the last hope to stopping this war. We can do it!!!! Looking forward to hearing from you!

Lots of love,

Sara."

The responses came so fast that she kept having to commission bigger vehicles for the trip. First, it was a 29-seat bus, then a 49-seater, and finally, it was the biggest one available, with a 59-person capacity, including two drivers. Word of the antiwar bus spread among peace groups and political clubs throughout the state. Iglesias ultimately planned pickups in five cities: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Port Charlotte, Tampa, and Gainesville.

Evonn Gibbs, a trade-publication writer in Lake Worth, helped Iglesias rally the troops in Palm Beach and Broward counties. After I messaged Iglesias about my interest in attending, Gibbs called and asked whether I knew of a place near Broward Boulevard and Interstate 95 where we could meet for a pickup and park our cars. I told her my house might do. And that was all it took -- the bus would arrive at my house at 1 p.m. Friday, October 25. We would be in D.C. about 22 hours later, at 11 a.m. Saturday. Then we'd attend the rally and march until about 6 p.m. before getting back on the bus for the ride home.

All I had to do was sit back and wait for the revolution to come to my doorstep.


They began gathering in my front yard not long after noon. For simplicity's sake, I'll call them the Broward Eight:

· Gibbs, a very thin vegetarian in her late 40s who is registered as an independent.

· Tina Gwaltney, a 44-year-old teacher from Plantation who is secretary of the Broward County Green Party.

· Her 17-year-old daughter, Sarah Gwaltney, a senior at South Plantation High School and an aspiring political organizer.

· Antoinette Thomas, a 47-year-old registered nurse and mother of eight from Lauderhill.

· Thomas' friend, Ceresta Smith, a high school teacher and owner of a production company in Miami-Dade County. Smith brought along her digital video camera to shoot documentary footage.

· A Russian technocrat, Pavel Gubanikhin, manager of the Broward County Office of Information Technology. At 28, he is also a member of the Broward Young Democrats.

· Sheila Bath, a 46-year-old "spiritual healer" from North Palm Beach.

· Joyce McMahon, a 48-year-old homemaker from West Palm Beach who has two grown children.

The bus arrived right on time, and Iglesias hopped out to greet us. For some reason, I half expected her to look something like Janis Joplin would today if she had lived, maybe in her mid-50s, with gray-streaked hair and beads dangling around a fleshy neck. I was wrong. Iglesias was 29 years old, pretty, and in fighting shape. She wore a red bandanna over her dirty-blond hair, which she had done in two thick braids that fell to the middle of her back. And she was every bit as cheerful and friendly as she seemed in her e-mails.

The bus was huge and had a clean smell and what seemed at first to be reasonably comfortable bucket seats. Several video screens were positioned overhead. With roughly ten people from Miami already on, I sat in an unoccupied pair of seats toward the front.

Gubanikhin, who had short black hair and bone-white skin, was in the seat directly behind me. The Muscovite had a reserved demeanor, almost dour, that was occasionally broken by a flash of wit. On that very day, Chechnyan rebels were holding almost 800 hostages in a Moscow theater. I asked him what he thought about it. "Look at the past," he said in his small, sharp, nasal Russian accent, staring at me through wire-rimmed glasses. "I think several hundred people will die."

While we spoke, production company owner Ceresta Smith had her professional-quality, digital video camera out and was interviewing the youngest rider on the bus, Sarah Gwaltney, who sat across the aisle and a couple of seats back from me. Her mother sat directly behind Gubanikhin. I overheard the tall, freckled teenager, who looked strangely familiar, say she was a senior at South Plantation High and was afraid a war in Iraq would lead to "mass destruction."

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