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Olivia Abelson, a longtime Cambridge resident, testifies to the City Council about the United States policy toward Iraq. Abelson will soon be moving out of the city.
(Staff photo by Kate Flock)

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City Council votes to give peace a chance

By Deborah Eisner / Chronicle Staff
Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Ordinance asks president to seek diplomatic solution to Iraq problem

Right in line with its penchant for progressive politics, Cambridge joined 70 other cities - including Detroit and Chicago - to decry a war in Iraq at this time.

The resolution, passed unanimously by the City Council Monday night, calls on the Bush administration to slow down its war drums and instead look for diplomatic, peaceful and humane ways to end the showdown with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"We need to stand in the way of this out-of-control war machine," Cantabrigian Kate Burn said during a 90-minute public comment session focused almost entirely on support for the resolution.

The resolution calls on the United States to "reaffirm our nation's commitment to the rule of law in all international relationships" and to allow the United Nations' weapons inspectors to return to Iraq and carry out their mission before launching an attack.

Acknowledging the need to remove the "tyrant" Hussein from power, the wording of the resolution is careful not to necessarily oppose war in Iraq in the future.

The resolution was sponsored by all seven councilors, the vice mayor and the mayor, and had the support of the Cambridge Peace Commission, CPPAX and Cambridge United for Peace with Justice.

"As George Bush bangs the drums of war, the need for vigorous opposition from our communities grows stronger," said Eric Weltman, organizing director of CCPAX, Citizens for Participation in Political Action.

Weltman, and others who testified in front of the council, pointed to the loss of lives of Cambridge residents serving in the military, the increased chance of terrorism against Americans and the high cost of war and postwar occupation as ways in which a war would directly affect the Cambridge community.

Cambridge is one of more than 70 cities, towns and counties throughout the United States that have passed similar resolutions. Locally, Somerville and Brookline are on record opposing war.

The president of the Boston City Council blocked a vote on a resolution, claiming such a vote would just augment the body's reputation for being a token board with little power.

Of the people who spoke during public comment, only one said she was disappointed it had taken the Cambridge City Council so long to take up the issue. Mayor Michael Sullivan admitted it surprised him that it took until now for the issue to come before the council.

Cambridge peaceniks, aged 12 to 90-plus, came out in droves to support their position and urge the council to unanimously pass the anti-war statement.

"If there is a war, many innocent people on both sides could die and the people in Iraq will suffer the most. Why should Iraqi people die at the hands of the U.S. military just because the U.S. wants to remove Saddam Hussein from power?" asked 12-year-old Eli Plenk, a seventh-grader who is part of a peace group at the King Open School.

"We are the youth and will shape the future of our city and country. We don't need a war causing problems for us to deal with when we grow up," he added.

For Elliot Mishler of Trowbridge Street, a member of Cambridge United for Peace with Justice, opposing an unecessary war in Iraq is an attempt to fulfill a promise made to himself when he was flying over Germany with the Air Force during World War II. "I remember making a vow ... that I would do everything I can to make sure my sons and grandsons never have to fight another war," he said.

Having a grandson of drafting age - the same age he was when he was flying in the military - makes Mishler's conviction that much stronger, he said.

Councilors and residents alike were quick to derail possible attacks from critics who might call an anti-war resolution by the Cambridge City Council futile given that the power to wage war rests in the hands of the federal government.

"When people feel as strongly as they do and at the national level they don't hear us, we have to do something," said Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis. "That's democracy."

For City Councilor Marjorie Decker, one of the original sponsors of the resolution, there was no question about acting locally.

"The City Council is a place in which members of the community and residents of the community have an opportunity to have discussions," she said. "I will continue to speak out on this issue. Anything that is happening to us on a national level affects us locally."

Decker said she is not convinced war is the only possible solution to the diplomatic problems in Iraq, especially given the other foreign policy concerns in North Korea and Afghanistan.

Davis and City Councilor Brian Murphy joined Decker in sponsoring the original resolution.

A substitute resolution using language from the anti-war resolution passed last month in January was passed in place of the original resolution, which modeled one passed in Somerville last fall.

City Councilor Anthony Galluccio, together with Mayor Michael Sullivan and city councilors David Maher and Tim Toomey, led the push to substitute the resolution that ultimately passed for the original.

Besides updating the facts to reflect the current situation in Iraq, the new resolution drew a distinction between opposing war in Iraq at this time and opposing any war in Iraq in the future.

"I thought it was very meaningful that the council was able to have dialogue. Every city councilor was involved in working this out at one point or another," Galluccio said. "I thought that the fact that we were able to respect each other and work out wording that we were comfortable with in a respectful way, I thought that was an accomplishment."

Material from the Boston Herald was used in this report. Contact Deborah Eisner at deisner@cnc.com.

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