San Diego Darth Vader is waving a light saber and a charred Styrofoam ball on a chain in front of Planet Hollywood at Fourth and Broadway. The dark lord, black robes flowing in the wind, is shaking the ball of cinder meant to represent Earth at passing traffic, which slows at the intersection, honks, flips the bird, or laughs as if the figure is a cheap actor out promoting the new Star Wars movie -- not unlike some guy dressed as a chicken hawking a new BBQ franchise. But Vader's helmet is emblazoned with the white letters NATO, and he is flanked by children wielding black construction-paper missile launchers that sprout bouquets of real flowers.
A hundred or so people parade up and down the stretch of sidewalk in front of Horton Plaza carrying signs, STOP THE BOMBING, DON'T TRUST CLINTON! OUT OF KOSOVO! and other less concise messages. The chanting is led by a slight and pale young man with glasses, a ponytail, and a microphone plugged into a cheap amp. Chinese students from UCSD, clergymen, Libertarian Party activists, representatives from the Peace and Freedom Party, schoolteachers, a guitarist, an accordionist, and others are protesting the U.S. and NATO military involvement in Yugoslavia.
It is difficult to say who is the spark plug in this coalition. Libertarian Dan Litwin, a quality- assurance analyst with shoulder-length, neat hair and mustache, says, "My personal objective is to make sure people know what the Libertarians stand for, which is that a military is for defensive purposes. We're over there [in Kosovo] defending who knows who. If they were for the same things that America was for, they would become a state or something like that. They would adopt the Constitution. But they don't. They have their own form of government, and we want to limit our government to a very few activities."
Would Litwin be demonstrating if the NATO and American bombing were working? "If the bombing had worked, brought Milosevic to his knees and he stopped being a bad guy, would that have been okay?
"Probably not. It's not in defense of America, and it is not within the scope of a limited government, and furthermore it would embolden politicians to go into 20 other places where it hasn't worked and the media would never bother to mention that it hasn't worked in far more cases than it has. We currently have troops in over a hundred countries, more than half the countries in the world. To focus on one [military intervention] that happened to be working -- even though this one isn't working -- would be to distort the facts."
The demonstration is not solely a Libertarian event, Litwin is quick to point out. "There are people here with other ways of thinking, other philosophies that don't necessarily want a limited government -- oh, they do in some areas, but that only encourages the politicians to go out there and do things like this. I'd say about half the people here might be Libertarians."
"PEOPLE ON THE TOP SAY GROUND WAR -- PEOPLE ON THE STREET SAY NO WAR!" The chant gathers momentum until a dozen or more people are pacing the sidewalk, passing out literature, brandishing signs with VIETNAM! the most prevalent exclamation. The chant dies out after a moment and a few people confer with each other. "Is there any press here? I don't see any press here." The kids with the makeshift rocket launchers are having fun posing for tourist shots, pretending to hit each other over the head, scrambling around picking up the wilting flowers from the sidewalk to replace them in the cardboard muzzles.
Roger Batchelder with the Peace and Freedom Party is standing next to the guy with the microphone. He seems to be in the neighborhood of 50 years old. "I was gonna volunteer for Vietnam way back when and join the Marines," he says, "and I found out I was being lied to about that. It seems like we've been lied to about every war ever since. So I've got to do my citizenship thing and try to stop this crap."
The Peace and Freedom Party is threatened with losing its ballot status. "We need to register 10,000 people by October. Our votes are being spread too thin among Democrats and Republicans."
Janice Jordan is the "southern state" chairperson for California's Peace and Freedom Party. "We need to get about 13,000 people registered, actually," she says. "Before the end of October. We're doing very well. A lot of people are re-registering Peace and Freedom now. A lot of Republicans are actually supporting us, which is interesting. Republicans and Greens. So we've got a good mix of people. This [demonstration] is a coalition of Stop the Bombing in Iraq, the Serbian community, church people, kids from San Diego State and UCSD, several factions. It's not just one thing. This is one of the bigger ones." She introduces me to Gerry Condon, a tall, fair-skinned man with reddish hair and a casual, well-dressed manner.
"I work with a group called Committee for Solidarity in the Americas. Primarily a Latin American solidarity group. We're concerned about what's going on in Chiapas, Mexico, for example, but we see the importance of being a part of the anti-war movement. It's really an attack on the sovereignty of all people everywhere. More and more Americans after the initial support and sympathy for the refugees, which we all share, realize that the bombing is not helping the refugees. The bombing is killing people on all sides. It's a bloody massacre, and we don't want it to continue in our name.
"We have a variety of alternative political parties out here today, including the International Socialist Party."
What would the response be to criticism that this demonstration, because of its disparity, is unfocused, just a lot of flakes from San Diego County standing on a street corner?
"That's a contradiction in terms," says Jordan. "If we were a bunch of flakes, we wouldn't be here supporting each other. Usually when you see anger or divisiveness among people, they're not willing to work together. What you see here is not divisiveness."