The coalition was formed shortly after the September 11 attacks to protest military action in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, the general public didn't exactly embrace the group. Its first demonstration was held during rush hour at a busy downtown Fort Lauderdale intersection October 11, 2001, precisely one month after the Twin Towers fell. Passersby greeted the protesters with derision; fisticuffs were narrowly avoided.
I might have shot the antiwar folks a sneer myself. I supported the bombing of al Qaeda and its Taliban protectors and felt that the far-leftists who fretted about it were way out of step. My own dissident nerve wasn't sparked until the focus shifted to Hussein and Bush's plan became a doctrine. Iraq is a giant red herring, salted and smoked, and Bush figured that, after September 11, good old vengeful Amarrrrca would eat it up. Some believe Bush is just pretending to be a warmonger to build pressure for new weapons inspections. But he and Cheney made their intentions clear at the beginning: regime change, not inspections.
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.
To his credit, Lefrak has created an impressive electronic antiwar community on Yahoo ([email protected]), 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,
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.