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The antiwar movement's storefront in Rochester

June 1, 2007 | Page 12

JEFF DeTORO talks to Rochester activists about the success of their new initiative.

A CONVERTED storefront near downtown is becoming an important organizing center for the antiwar movement and other political struggles in Rochester, N.Y.

Situated in a popular, youth-friendly shopping district, the new Antiwar Storefront Crisis Center has become a home to peace activists, antiwar coalitions, musicians, poets and photographers, and progressive groups of all kinds. "It provides an attractive and lively home base for a variety of compatible but usually separated groups," said peace activist Mike Connelly. "Already, the storefront has been a galvanizing force.

Events like the recent "Voices of a People's History," sponsored by Haymarket Books, attracted a standing-room-only crowd eager to share the words of their favorite historical antiwar and anti-capitalist heroes.

Additionally, the storefront has become the regular weekly meeting location for many groups, including Rochester Against War (RAW), one of the most active antiwar organizations in the country.

"The response has been tremendous," says Brian Lenzo, a facilitator in RAW. "Just the other day, during our RAW meeting, someone we had never seen before just came by off the street and gave us a check," because he wanted to support the cause.

Many people who would not otherwise come into contact with antiwar activists have been drawn to the storefront after reading about it, seeing it in television reports, or just walking by and seeing the massive "U.S. Out of Iraq" posters hanging in the windows.

The organizing center has fostered impromptu debates and discussions as people make contact with the groups and individuals gathered there to organize, talk politics or just pick up antiwar literature, buttons and bumper stickers. As Louise Wu, a leader of Peace, Action and Education, which funds the storefront, puts it, "There is a great potential for synergy."

On some nights, the storefront might act as a call center, as liberal groups try to connect likely antiwar voters with their representatives. On others, it rings with antiwar poetry or music from local artists speaking out against the horrors of war. Religious groups also frequent the store, and some drop off items to be sold, with part of the money going to fund the project.

Recently, RAW sponsored Matt Hrutkay from Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), who stopped in to speak about his personal experiences as a soldier in Iraq and the IVAW's efforts to encourage active-duty personnel and veterans to speak out.

Ideas for the future include educational events by Palestinian and Arab rights advocates, as local activists see the need to bring the voices of the most oppressed to the forefront--as well as antiwar soldier newspaper nights, concerts and political debates.

With the U.S. war on Iraq growing more and more unpopular, new and innovative ideas for organizing like the Antiwar Storefront are catching on--as an example of how to connect the various components of the struggle together, and to expand and mobilize the antiwar majority.

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