What is the local antiwar movement’s reaction to President Bush’s proposed troop surge? That was the question put to a number of West Ventura County movement leaders. While none of them shied away from denouncing the president’s plan, in all, they seemed more intent on advancing alternative initiatives than reacting to Bush’s.

Kris Young, 55, Move-On activist and board member of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (CPR), a peace education and advocacy group, dismissed the surge with a single word: “counterproductive.”

Another board member and frequent spokesperson from CPR, David Howard, 57, condemned the “surge” as “reckless,” and advocated that Congress “immediately de-fund the debacle.\”

Sue Broidy, 66, president of the Ojai Valley Democratic Club (OVDC) and a 2006 Ventura County honoree of the National Women’s Political Caucus, remarked that she was “of course, utterly appalled” at the request that she termed “greater escalation,” since the electorate had just indicated disapproval of the continuing occupation.

However, she focused more on the need for an entirely different direction. “I get so angry with people who say the Democrats have no plan. We have many ideas, not just to end the war, but to bring peace to the entire area,” she said.

She noted that the OVDC is sponsoring a talk on Feb. 17 outlining a “progressive foreign policy” with the title “Reconsidering the New World Order.” The speaker, Harlan Hobgood, is a former senior foreign service officer and member of the Democratic Central Committee.

Broidy also pointed out that significant escalation has already occurred because the United States has sent a great number of private security contractors to Iraq. She said the contractors (who are employed by Blackwater, a Florida firm with ties to the Republicans) have not improved the situation.

Another Ojai leader, Evan Austin, 26, founder of the Ojai Peace Coalition, stated, “Our own generals have made it clear that more troops are not the answer. And much like ‘war for peace’ makes absolutely no sense, ‘escalation for withdrawal’ is equally insane.” He urged Congress to use their war powers for an immediate end to the conflict.

The potential death of more young people weighs heavily on Austin. His car can be seen around town reminding people of our military dead with hash marks painted over its surface for each soldier killed.

Green Party stalwart Norman Eagle, 82, who, with wife Betty, is perhaps the area’s most constant peace advocate, dismissed the escalation in few words as contrary to the people’s expressed wishes. He then described his visit with five other peace activists to the office of Rep. Lios Capps, D-Santa Barbara, where the group attempted to persuade her to support House Bill 508, sponsored by Lynne Woolsey, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee, all California Democrats.

According to Eagle, the bill “calls for restricting further funding of the war, the withdrawal of all troops within six months, repealing the original Congressional authorization for military operations and instituting programs of reconstruction and reconciliation.”

Eagle stated further that Capps was leaning toward the weaker Murtha Bill, which leaves the authorization intact and speaks only of “redeployment” of troops rather than withdrawal. Finally, he said, the provision for de-funding the war is not as unequivocal. He indicated the group is resolved to attempting to persuade Capps, and to urge others to end the war.

The most direct articulation of the need to redirect attention from the surge to alternative action came from Craig Christensen, 67, the chair of the Peace Coalition of Greater Ventura, an umbrella organization providing support and coordination to peace groups around the west county. The group is an outgrowth of the Plaza Park Peace Coalition, whose spirited gatherings Christensen led in years past.

As Christensen said, “Of course, like most Americans, I think [the surge] is a horrible idea. But in a way, it’s a diversion. It gives Congress an opportunity to debate weeks and weeks on this narrow issue.” He recommends that Congress apply its power instead to the broader question of ending the occupation.

John Osmand echoed Christensen’s sentiments, but with a heavier tone. Osmand, 36, is best known by local people as the tireless chant leader of many peace marches, as well as a strong voice in the Peace Coalition, the Green Party, and the International Socialist Organization.

About the troop “surge,” Osmand said, “Neither Democratic or Republican politicians are discussing an immediate end to the horrific occupation. They’re not talking about cutting funding for the occupation, which shovels billions of taxpayer money into corporate troughs of Halliburton and the like. Instead, the hubbub in D.C. is over a non-binding resolution condemning the so-called surge.”