News » Feature

Young Blood

Shawnee Mission East's Sam Stepp and his comrades are a new breed of anti-war protester.


Election Day, 1992. Mission Hills, Kansas.Sam Stepp sat on the couch in his living room, staring at the TV. A hard-core Republican and political junkie, Stepp loved Election Day even more than a Chiefs game.

As he waited anxiously for polls to close, he thought back on the campaign. President George Bush had been lagging in the polls nationally, but he was popular among Stepp's friends and neighbors in Johnson County. Many of them saw Democratic candidate Bill Clinton exactly as Bush's campaign ads portrayed him: a slick-talking draft dodger from Arkansas with questionable morals who wanted to overtax Americans.

Bush was Clinton's polar opposite: a plainspoken hero who'd fought as a Navy pilot in World War II, a loyal husband and fiscally conservative oil entrepreneur who had proven his mettle by taking on the maniacal Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Stepp remembered Bush's ads, the ones that showed footage of Scud missiles taken during 1991's Gulf War.

Results began to come in. Stepp watched the map of the country as the networks colored in each state with Republican red or Democrat blue. "Wooo!" Stepp hollered as Florida and the Carolinas turned red. But too many states were going blue -- all-important New York and its neighbors in the Northeast. A stripe of red appeared down the center of the country. Then Stepp watched in agony as California fell to Clinton. It was over.

Devastated, Stepp climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling. One question haunted him. How would he face his second-grade classmates the next day? Ten years later, Washington, D.C.

Sam Stepp stood on the National Mall on a Saturday morning in January 2003, surrounded by a huge crowd of anti-war protesters.

He was there to save the world, along with nine of his friends from Shawnee Mission East High School.

More than thirty kids from four area high schools had made the 24-hour trip in a caravan of three buses carrying 167 people from Kansas City.

As the protesters congregated on the Mall, C-SPAN helicopters hovered above, broadcasting a crowd estimated at 485,000 -- the largest peace rally to take place in Washington since the Vietnam War. "It was more people than I've ever seen in my life," Stepp recalls.

Right after the September 11 attacks, Kansas City's office of the American Friends Service Committee, the social and political arm of the Quakers, had formed the Justice Not Revenge network to promote nonviolent responses at a time when anger dominated the national discussion. At first, the group's meetings drew crowds of fifty or more, including a few high school kids. But as the months passed, that number dwindled to a lonely five or six. And the ones left sitting in the church meeting rooms were mainly older people "who had been doing this [peace activism] forever," says Kris Cheatum, who runs a twenty-year-old local group called Peaceworks. "There were no youngsters at that time."

But as the U.S. government's focus shifted from smoking terrorists out of caves in Afghanistan to bombing people in Iraq, anti-war rallies on the Plaza began to grow. When school started this past fall, more high schoolers started showing up at the J.C. Nichols fountain.

"In recent years, there's been a lot of concern amongst peace activists about the graying of the peace movement," says Kris' husband, Lynn Cheatum. "Now along come these youth, and they're saying the same things we're saying, only with more vigor."

The trip from Kansas City to the D.C. rally had been put together by a 54-year-old ex-English teacher from Olathe, Patrice Cuddy-Lamoree. The most radical thing about her, she says, is that she doesn't put chemicals on her lawn.

When a friend of Stepp's, Julie Wu, heard that Cuddy-Lamoree had arranged for two buses to take Kansas City protesters to the rally, Wu called her and said 47 high school students wanted to go -- almost enough to fill a third bus.

"I was like, yeah, right, high school kids, 47, we'll see," Cuddy-Lamoree says. Then she met with a small group of girls: Wu, from Shawnee Mission East; Genevie Gold, from Sumner Academy in Kansas City, Kansas; Zaria Molini, from Notre Dame de Sion in south Kansas City; and Margaret Hansbrough, from St. Teresa's Academy in Brookside.

"Those four girls, they're little leaders," Cuddy-Lamoree says now. She reserved a third bus.

Thinking that high schoolers would feel more comfortable among their own kind, Cuddy-Lamoree designated the third vehicle "the kids' bus." "As a teacher, I've been around high school kids," she says. "They need each other."

Being teen-agers, most of the kids were used to ignoring minor insults from adults.

When Stepp found out about the kids' bus, he e-mailed Cuddy-Lamoree and asked if he could ride in one of the other buses. "I already knew all those people," Sam says of his fellow high schoolers. "I wanted to meet new people and exchange some new ideas." Cuddy-Lamoree let him ride on Bus No. 1, where he ended up befriending two nuns.

Nan Thrutchley, a Republican from Olathe who had never protested anything before, helped organize the trip. "Nan's [kids] wanted to go, so she decided to go, too," Cuddy-Lamoree says.

As the students stood waiting in a midtown Home Depot parking lot on the morning the buses were to leave, they looked hip and laid-back in their carefully chosen traveling clothes: tie-dyed scarves, thrift-store mechanics' jackets, beaded hemp chokers, wool hats, meticulously arranged anti-war pins. Some girls had brought embroidery floss to macramé each other's hair on the bus.

But in a move that seemed purposefully calculated to mortify the teen-agers, Thrutchley had gone to a fabric store, bought stretchy neon-orange material and sewn a glow-in-the-dark neck warmer for every minor on the trip. Cuddy-Lamoree wanted everyone under eighteen to wear them so they could be easily identified in the crowd.

"I used mine as a pillow and then left it on the bus," Molini says, rolling her eyes.

Stepp ignored the requirement, too.

The air was a frosty twenty degrees in Washington, but the day was sunny. As he walked along the east end of the National Mall, past the grand staircase and colonnaded porch of the National Gallery of Art, Stepp waved an American flag decorated with a peace symbol.

A massive crowd had gathered in front of a stage set up about half a block from the Capitol building, and Stepp and a friend wandered over to listen. All around them, a party was going on. Protesters pounded on bongo drums. A guy with a beat-up tuba was jamming New Orleans-style. Hansbrough and her friends from St. Teresa's, Lauren Krum and Sarah Hogan, joined in the boogying. Listening to the British pop band Chumbawumba, some of the protesters hopped up and down, waving their arms in the air and shaking their butts.

Gold made her way through the tangle, her buddies from Sumner following close behind. Gold's few friends from school who opposed the impending war had stayed home because their parents wouldn't let them go to D.C., so she'd recruited four ambivalent friends to join her. On the bus, they'd had to sit by the bathroom, so the long, cramped ride had been smelly.

"My friends were, like, 'I'm tired. I'm cold. I'm hungry. My legs hurt,'" Gold says. "I told them, 'Well, I'm tired, cold, hungry and my legs hurt, too!'"

For three hours that morning, from their various vantage points, Stepp, Gold and Krum listened to speeches from celebrities.

"We march today to fight militarism and racism and sexism and anti-Semitism and Arab-bashing. We fight for one world!" shouted the Reverend Jesse Jackson. "It's hope time. It's peace time!"

"We are the people. You are not speaking for us," actress Jessica Lange said, addressing an absent President Bush (who was at Camp David).

Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark urged a cheering crowd to impeach Bush.

Then Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic, whose life was dramatized in the Tom Cruise movie Born on the Fourth of July, quieted listeners by telling the story of how he'd been shot and paralyzed from the waist down. He encouraged protesters to keep speaking out against war. "The fight will be won by you with love and compassion and nonviolence," he said.

The demonstration in Washington that day was the largest of a group of simultaneous protests across the country and worldwide organized by International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). The rallies were set to coincide with the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. As many as 200,000 people marched in San Francisco, and smaller groups demonstrated in other U.S. cities. Organizers of a Kansas City rally at the J.C. Nichols fountain counted more than 600 people there. In Tokyo, a mob of 5,000, carrying toy guns with flowers in them and wearing George W. Bush masks, took over a ritzy shopping district. Hundreds also gathered in Great Britain, New Zealand, Russia and Germany.

After the rally, the march started. There were so many people that protesters moved only a few steps a minute. It took hours to make the 2-mile walk from the Mall to the Washington Navy Yard.

"We were shoulder to shoulder. Everybody was crammed in there," Stepp says. Among the protest signs, Stepp saw many that asked "What Would Jesus Do?"

Now that's a good sign, Stepp thought. But he grimaced at placards like the enormous lime-green one that said "Fuck George W. Bush."

"People like my mom, who have been sympathetic to the cause after she's heard what I have to say, are completely turned off by that kind of vulgarity and obscenity," Stepp explains. "And the news thrives on it. You come back and KCTV 5 and stuff, that's all they have pictures of -- 'Bush Sucks' -- and people watching think, these people just want a chance to scream and throw their middle fingers in the air and say, 'I hate my government.'"

On January 31, KCUR 89.3 devoted an episode of its Friday talk show Under the Clock to "the human face of today's peace movement." About eighty people sat in the audience.

KCUR's news director, Frank Morris, sat in for the Reverend Emanuel Cleaver, the live program's regular host. He introduced the three guests: a World War II conscientious objector, a suburban housewife who recently changed political perspectives, and a high school student just back from the rally in Washington, D.C.

Stepp and his friends had cut class so they could go downtown. He had talked a girl at school into forging a pass for them. Stepp says when he flashed the pass at his teacher, "He was just like 'Yeeaahhh, all riiiight. Go ahead.'"

Just before the show, an NPR newscaster's voice filled the air, talking about increasing tension on the "world stage." Bush had just issued a statement that Iraq had "weeks, not months" to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.

Stepp slipped off his Birkenstocks and sat cross-legged on his chair, fidgeting. The host reminded the audience that the show was not a forum for discussing whether America should go to war with Iraq but was rather a profile of the new peace activists.

"Demonstrations against war with Iraq are the latest in a long tradition of protests in America. In World War II and Korea, small war-resistance movements formed," Morris said. "During the Vietnam era, anti-war agitators became pop culture icons; their anthems became the soundtrack of a generation."

With that, a song by the late Phil Ochs, who made his name singing protest songs in the '60s, came on. Many eyes in the over-forty crowd grew misty. But, apparently not in the mood for a folk fest, the kids just looked impatient.

Morris turned to the three generations of protesters sitting on the couch.

"First off," Morris said, "I'd like to get from you guys a sense of what the scope of the peace movement is in Kansas City ... I've seen dozens of people protesting at Mill Creek Park."

Stepp scowled. "Dozens," he muttered. "They always do this to us, man." Thrutchley quickly corrected Morris, noting that crowds of 300 regularly show up on Sundays and that on the weekend of the D.C. protests more than 600 people demonstrated at Mill Creek Park.

"What makes you think that protesting is going to stop this bulldozer?" Morris asked. He looked at Gold.

"Well," she began, "it doesn't just become about stopping the bulldozer. It's speaking out for what you believe. And we have got to speak for those who cannot. It is our obligation. We are a member in the human family. In the years to come, I will look back, and I will not regret anything. I will know that I did what I'm supposed to do as a human."

Now it was the audience's turn to share stories.

One by one, adults made their way through the aisles and down to the front of the room. About 25 people had lined up behind a microphone on a stand. At the back of the line, Stepp and his friends were barely visible behind all the gray heads.

A tall, birdish man with white hair in a "No Blood for Oil" T-shirt stepped to the microphone and began a long diatribe.

"I'm from Overland Park," he said in a shaky voice. "I come from a long line of patriots," he said, before recapping his work in a Central American refugee camp in the '80s, where current Bush administration figures were "running the show." He went on about "corporate media lies" and the "corporate influence" driving U.S. foreign policy. "My father fought in World War II, and we now know that IBM corporation made a bunch of money helping the Nazis run more efficient death trains," he continued. "And George Bush's grandfather made a fortune selling steel to the Nazi war machine...."

"Wait, wait. It's going to be hard to refute any of this stuff," Morris said. "Let me just ask you, does your position on the war cause a rift within your family?"

"The reason you can't refute it is because it's true," he said, laughing.

The man kept talking about Vice President Dick Cheney's company, Halliburton, selling supplies and equipment to Saddam Hussein.

A voice in the back threatened to cut off the microphone, and he finally sat down.

Stepp was growing exasperated waiting for his chance to talk. He worried that listeners would think peace activists were a bunch of left-wing conspiracy theorists.

Then a gray-bearded American Friends Service Committee leader spoke.

"Back in the '60s, I was in college and wasn't very active -- really was more of an artist -- but felt obligated to speak out against the Vietnam War ... I really wasn't prepared to be an activist again. I'm an artist, a teacher, but it was really just something I felt I had to do," he said.

Then a woman with spiky silver hair walked to the microphone.

"I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister," she said in a slow, silky voice. "For me, my participation comes from a very religious one but ... it's not necessarily from a pacifist position, but I think everyone is familiar with the story that during the Mexican war, the great transcendentalist Henry Thoreau was in jail, and Emerson came to visit him, and Emerson said to Thoreau, 'What are you doing in there?' And Thoreau turned to him and said, 'What are you doing out there?' So for me as a minister, it's not just my religious obligation, but patriotism.... It is the backbone of democracy to oppose an unjust war, and that's the case for me."

A woman with white-blond sculpted hair and dangly earrings spoke.

"I'm from Overland Park. I am late to this awareness. I have been in a trance with corporate media's reporting, and now I realize there's so much more information, and if the rest of the public had access to this information, the movement would grow exponentially."

More and more adults got their say, until finally, the man in front of Stepp walked to the microphone.

A portly attorney with salt-and-pepper hair and a mustache, he said September 11 had inspired him to get involved in the peace movement. "In the Vietnam era, I was in the Marine Corps during that time.... I'm here because I felt that our government did not represent things properly during the Vietnam War.... We need citizen participation in our government, because if we don't the military-industrial complex will basically establish the way policies are formed."

The man finally finished, and Stepp jumped up.

"Sorry, sir," Morris told Stepp. "It doesn't give you time to get in. We'll get a last word from our panelists."

Stepp looked down, dejected.

Then Morris asked whether any local cities were trying to pass anti-war resolutions. A woman flamboyantly dressed in purple, with cropped gray hair, rushed to the microphone, brushing past Stepp. She talked for a few minutes about plans in the works in Lawrence.

Morris told the panelists they could each say a few closing words.

First, the conscientious objector spoke, then the suburban mom. Last, Gold grabbed a microphone.

"Oh yeah!" she said. "Educate yourselves."

In their own little worlds, young peace activists rule.

At Shawnee Mission East, peace activist Peter Wetzel, Stepp's best friend, was elected homecoming king last fall. Informal Friday-morning Breakfasts for Peace sometimes attract as many as forty kids -- though a few of them just want free doughnuts. Some schools have one or two activists; at Center High School in south Kansas City, Alex Moss, who is building his conscientious objector file, sometimes stands alone passing out leaflets to his fellow students.

Many of the kids were inspired by Peace Jam, an organization founded in 1996 in Denver to unite students in the study of Nobel Peace Prize recipients, who then visit and speak to them. More than 30,000 students across the country have participated. In Kansas City, the annual two-day event takes place at Rockhurst University.

Frequently, the kids learn lessons about the world, sparking an intellectual curiosity way beyond what their civics teachers might dream of.

Lauren Krum, who grew up in a big house in midtown's Coleman Highlands neighborhood, is an eighteen-year-old senior at St. Teresa's. The 500 girls who attend classes at that private Catholic school's grassy campus all know one another. Krum is part of the anti-war clique, which often hangs out at Muddy's coffee shop on 51st Street, talking about political issues.

After Hansbrough turned Krum on to The Economist and The Nation a few years ago, Krum began reading alternative-media Web sites such as She'd always had liberal leanings and sympathy for Middle Eastern views on American foreign policy. "I have a Syrian background on my dad's side of the family, and we have friends from Iran. I think the best thing I've gotten from my conversations with family and friends in the Middle East is a clear understanding of the way that Americans are perceived by other people, especially there," she says.

Other students stop Krum in the halls to talk about current events, and the fliers and cartoons covering her locker are so widely read that students who are putting on their own events ask her if they can post information there.

"Of course, I have to approve it first," she says, standing in front of a long list of U.S. military actions throughout history and David Rees cartoons from In most of the cartoons, a businessman sits at a desk ranting about war and America's foreign policy. In one, he says, "Can't we just build a fucking bomb the size of the earth and cut a hole out of the middle the size of the United States? Drop the motherfucker around us and just take care of business once and for all?"

A few weeks ago, an administrator asked her to take everything off her locker because visitors were coming to the school. She didn't do it. "I was, like, 'What? You don't want visitors to know that actual people with actual opinions go to this school?' But then I came by, and someone had taken everything off and shoved it in another locker."

In her school cafeteria a few weeks ago, Krum put three big sheets of butcher paper on the wall. Above each one she wrote "Military Action in Iraq?" One page was for yes, one page was for no, and the third was for maybe. She wanted all the students to be able to write their opinions. On the maybe sheet, Krum wrote "ABC, NBC and your friends are not the gospel."

"Those have caused quite a ruckus," she says. "There are always students standing around them and talking. I was late for class the other day because I was having a conversation with a girl who said she couldn't understand anything that was written on the anti-war poster."

Last year, Krum read Gore Vidal's essay collection Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: Why We Are So Hated, which contains a twenty-page chart of 250 U.S. military actions around the globe since World War II. She was appalled to learn that in the 1980s, the U.S. government had trained, funded, armed and installed the Taliban to rule Afghanistan during Russia's occupation.

A few years before that, Krum read an article about how the Taliban had required women to wear burquas, had sometimes stoned women and denied them access to medical care and education. Krum had written letters to Congress about it. As she was reading Vidal's book, she kept hearing leaders on TV talking about how the U.S. bombing campaign would free Afghan women from Taliban oppression.

"I was, like, wait a minute," she says. "We knew about this, and we were friends with the Taliban. Now the media is making it out like it's all about these poor, veiled women who are being oppressed. Bullshit!"

Though she and her friends talk in-your-face and criticize George W. Bush when they're with each other, they keep their protesting polite and peaceful.

"I do think we shy away from the vernacular of earlier generations of protesters, like the feminist movement and bra burners and, like, the crazy hippies showing their armpit hair. I think we look at that as kind of taboo. I don't think I would get up and yell and scream like that, even though I probably have it in me," Krum says.

Her friend Jessica Gorman says it's partly because many kids in her generation were raised to be passive TV watchers and video-game players.

"I think our generation was taught to be so nonreactive to everything. We were raised to just kind of sit there. So it takes a lot to even do just what we're doing," Gorman says.

At Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences, students call Gold "Ms. President" -- sometimes admiringly and sometimes mockingly, such as when she shows up at a party and a jock teases her for dancing instead of circulating petitions. Sumner, a magnet school on North 8th Street in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, draws almost 1,000 students from all over Wyandotte County. It was built in the 1940s as a fallout shelter; yellow instruction signs still hang on the walls.

Gold remembers hashing over current events at the dinner table with her dad, a liberal Democrat, when she was younger. With her friends, she loved to pretend she was president and create imaginary policy. When she was in fifth grade, she heard that the world's rainforests were being destroyed and hit up her classmates for money to send to an environmental group.

Her father's side of the family is Jewish, and when Gold was ten, she and her father went to Israel for three weeks for her cousin's bar mitzvah. "I remember there weren't a lot of stereos, and there weren't a lot of TVs. There wasn't a lot of excess there, and at the time it seemed really weird to me. I was, like, 'What? You don't have Nintendo?'"

Gold was frightened by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She knew that her aunt sometimes had to take shifts to protect the kibbutz, patrolling at night with a gun.

"It was always a conflict that I didn't understand. I always thought it didn't make sense that it kept going on and all these people were dying," she recalls.

In 2000, Gold's father helped her get involved with Al Gore's campaign. She was fourteen, working side by side with adults, calling voters and passing out campaign literature door-to-door. When the TV news rescinded its early report that Gore had won Florida, she says, "I ran and locked myself in the bathroom and started crying."

After September 11, though, Gold abandoned her pacifism. She was scared and angry and wanted revenge. "I had no problem bombing Afghanistan ... I had a friend who was a pacifist, and I was, like, 'No, we have to fight fire with fire!'"

But when Gold heard 1976 Nobel Prize-winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland speak at a Peace Jam event, her views began to change. After Maguire's two nephews and niece were killed by an Irish Republican Army soldier, she and another woman organized the largest peace demonstrations in that region's history and founded the group Peace People.

"She just blew me away. I began to see people in foreign countries as people. I could no longer say, 'Oh, those people over there.' I could no longer say that they weren't like me," Gold says.

At her school she formed a group -- Outreach Humanity -- that encouraged students to follow world events, write letters and sign petitions for fighting hunger and promoting women's rights. She was upset to read UNICEF's 1999 estimate that 500,000 Iraqi children had died in part because of United Nations sanctions against the country.

"I had this big vision that I just wanted to make this huge peace movement at my school," she says.

She's still trying. "There's probably a good amount of students who don't think this war is a good idea," she says. "But then you cut out the people who are afraid to say anything. Then you cut out the people who don't want to bother to say anything. So that only leaves a few people. It's not like Shawnee Mission East, which is just like a haven for peace."

Sam Stepp's transformation from second-grade Republican to senior-class lefty happened after he fell in with a bad crowd: liberals.

Stepp was born in 1985, the first child of neurosurgeon Tim Stepp and his wife, Debbie, a homemaker. They lived in a small house in Prairie Village.

Stepp was baptized at his family's church, Prairie Baptist, just a few blocks from their home. Two younger brothers soon arrived, and the family moved to a four-bedroom ranch house in Mission Hills. Stepp's parents were religious and conservative. His mom insisted that the whole family go to church together every Sunday.

Keeping score and getting points were important to Stepp, who played soccer and baseball and loved to go to Kansas City Chiefs and Royals games. In his classes at school, most of the other kids were Republican because their parents were. In politics, being Republican meant being on the winning team.

During the fall of 1992, Stepp's second-grade teacher taught the class about politics. They studied the parties and the candidates. One girl drew a Ross Perot sign in crayon and taped it to the front of her desk. Stepp and his friends made fun of her. "Perot!" Stepp taunted her. "What a loser!"

Belinder Elementary held a schoolwide mock election that year. The principal read the results over the loudspeaker: "President George Bush wins the election!" Stepp and his friends whooped and celebrated with high fives. "Who's the bomb in '92?" Stepp shouted. "Yeah, Bush!"

As Stepp got older, he continued to follow politics. He entered Shawnee Mission East, a sprawling public school of more than 2,000 students at 75th and Mission Road. During his freshman year, Stepp made some new friends who had liberal views, and he liked to argue with them. Chris Lintecum, who was a year older, started driving him to school every day. In the car, they'd listen to the Grateful Dead, Phish and Bob Dylan, talking politics and issues. Stepp's opinions always followed the Republican party line.

He remembers one sophomore-year debate about taxation.

"We had this big discussion about the flat tax, and I was arguing that it's only fair that everyone should be taxed at the same rate, and you shouldn't be penalized for making more money," Stepp recalls. "But Chris was saying, 'No, if you make more money, you have more of a duty to give up more to help others and society.' And I thought about it, and I said, 'Wow, you're right. That's true.'"

But it was the 2000 presidential election that really caused Stepp to rethink his childhood politics. Instead of dismissing Green Party candidate Ralph Nader because he'd never have enough votes to win, Stepp studied the issues that Nader promoted. The ideas made a lot of sense to him.

In the past year, he's come home from school every day to read The Kansas City Star, combing the national and international pages. He also reads alternative-news Web sites. Stepp is horrified at the U.S. military's plan for blitzing Baghdad. Operation Shock and Awe would slam the city with an "e-bomb" warhead that would emit a lightninglike pulse, destroying any electrical equipment, followed by 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles. He read estimates that the tactic could kill or maim 500,000 of Baghdad's civilians. The military strategist who created the plan told reporters that it would be "rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima."

"That makes me feel horrible as a human being," Stepp says.

September 11, 2001, Shawnee Mission East High School.

Stepp was getting a drink of water on a break from his first-hour class when he saw one of his classmates running through the halls. "Did you hear?" the guy told him. "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!"

For a second, Stepp figured it must have been an accident. "I thought, Ohhh, bad pilot," he says.

But then the boy told him a second plane had crashed into the other tower and that terrorists had probably done it. Stepp rushed to his second-period class.

"I said, 'Turn on the TV, just turn on the TV,'" he recalls. He and his classmates watched in silence. Tears welled up in Stepp's eyes.

Being patriotic was important to Stepp. After the attacks, he and a few friends passed out red-white-and-blue ribbons at school. But when he was watching TV and heard President Bush describe the country's intended course of action as a "war on terrorism," Stepp was disturbed. He decided he didn't want his patriotism to be construed as a vote for violence. So he placed a peace sign pin on his ribbon. No one harassed him about it.

In the days following the attacks, Stepp read the newspaper and watched the news more than usual. In October, he heard about how Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, had told a group in Tennessee that "Islam is a wicked and violent religion."

"Man, that hurt," Stepp says. "That really bothered me." As a Christian, Stepp didn't want people to think that he felt that way. To him, Graham's comment seemed not only bigoted but also contrary to the Bible's teachings about love and tolerance.

"I started questioning my faith a lot," he says, "because members of the Christian community were out condemning Islam, and I'm thinking, no, no, that's not what we're going to do. I mean, Allah didn't tell these guys to do this. I don't believe that. These guys were using religion to further their political goals. It was Osama bin Laden and politics."

Stepp studied other religions and found many of the concepts taught by other faiths to be useful and interesting. Then he went back to his Bible and studied Jesus' teachings. He rediscovered Matthew 5:9, in which Jesus tells his disciples, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

That verse resonated with Stepp. He decided Jesus would have been anti-war.

"Jesus walked around in sandals and ate with prostitutes, money changers -- everybody!" Stepp says. "He hung out with the poor, the lower class. And he was forgiving. Jesus would not condone the bombing of civilians. Geez. No. He'd hate it. Jesus said turn the other cheek, you know, and help out others."

On Saturday, as many as ten million people rallied for peace in more than 350 cities around the world. The number of protesters made accurate crowd counts almost impossible, but police in Rome estimated that one million demonstrators filled the streets, and law-enforcement officials in London counted at least 750,000 protesters. Hundreds of thousands marched in San Francisco, Sydney, Berlin, Paris, Brussels and Madrid; tens of thousands took to the streets in Oslo, Stockholm, Dublin, Seville and Mexico City. In Tel Aviv, Israelis and Palestinians marched together against the war. In New York, protesters took over 1st, 2nd and 3rd Avenues for twenty blocks.

On Sunday, Kansas Citians joined in, with 1,600 protesters gathering on the Plaza on the sunny but cold afternoon. The crowd was a melange -- young moms with bundled babies, grandmothers who wore "Knitters for Peace" stickers, college students, Vietnam veterans, librarians, church families and teen-agers. News vans had parked in Mill Creek park, and Food Not Bombs set up a tent where volunteers handed out vegan food.

After the rally, the crowd marched west on the sidewalks along 47th Street past Plaza shoppers, loudly chanting, "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" The marchers tied up traffic for at least half an hour, but many SUV drivers didn't seem to mind. Some honked their approval and rolled down their windows so they could flash a gloved peace sign. An elderly couple sat outside Latteland, sipping from paper cups and holding up a "No War" placard. Police eventually arrived to block off traffic entering the Plaza.

The activists then marched back to the park, where a local folksinger provided a rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine," and speakers included local physician Yolanda Huet-Vaughn, notorious for resisting the call to active duty during the Gulf War. "This weekend, the world's citizens have spoken," she said.

"If we go to war, if anything, resistance should be increased," Krum tells the Pitch. "I'm sure as hell not just going to say, 'Oh, this sucks,' and just quit. No way. I'm just going to get louder."

Add a comment