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Comedy Fest seriousness: War and peace are no joke

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The media’s focus on celebrities in the peace movement “dumbs down” the debate, according to comedian and actress Janeane Garofalo, whose star appeal was nonetheless one reason the media gathered at a press conference Friday at the Pitkin County Library.

Promised appearances by filmmaker Michael Moore and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, along with the outspoken Garofalo, lured a small roomful of media types and citizens, but Thompson and Moore were no-shows.

“I apologize,” Garofalo said. “Hunter Thompson, not here. Michael Moore, not here. But we have Janeane Garofalo. Wow! How anticlimactic.”

The panel of speakers also included county Commissioner Mick Ireland, Chris Myers of the Western Slope Peace Coalition, Scott Chaplin and Tricia McKenzie of the Roaring Fork Peace Coalition, and, briefly, former Aspen Mayor Bill Stirling.

They took turns bashing the media and the Bush administration, and urging citizens to make their voices heard on the pending war with Iraq, both through the grass-roots peace movement and at the ballot box.

Garofalo, in town for last week’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, sponsored by HBO, has made various television appearances in recent weeks to speak out against the war, and did so during the festival, as well.

The war, in fact, was referenced by a number of festival performers.

Garofalo acknowledged the irony of her activism, in light of her celebrity status.

“Regrettably, the mainstream media, they have focused the antiwar movement on people in the entertainment industry because it marginalizes the movement,” she said. “They know it makes it look silly. They know nobody holds actors’ opinions in very high esteem.

“They know that people don’t give a shit what celebrities think. They want the controversy and the ratings,” Garofalo added after the press conference. “It’s obvious they’re not serious about the debate when they keep booking celebrities.

“There are plenty of Republicans and political people and military people who are against this war, and they should be the ones on Fox.”

She also charged the media with failing to perform its role as the watchdogs of the government and with portraying peace activities as anti-American.

“There is no liberal media, by the way. I don’t know where that myth got started,” Garofalo said.

Clad in one of her trademark blazers decorated with a blaze-orange peace button, she wryly noted the controversy the symbol has been stirring up lately.

“It’s a very strange thing to encounter hostility because of a peace sign,” she said.

Calling the current goings-on a “a very bad chapter in American history,” comparable to McCarthyism or interment of the Japanese, Garofalo predicted future generations will look back and wonder why no one stepped forward to object.

Stepping up is what the growing peace movement is doing, panel members said.

“I’m kind of shocked, actually, about how many people aren’t getting involved in our community,” Chaplin said.

“It is very much the responsibility of local governments to speak up,” said Myers, a former valley resident who now lives in Telluride, where he has organized This Republic Can to speak out on various issues.

“It is very much the responsibility of local government to speak up,” he said. “There is a lot of power in the collective voice.”

Ireland defended Pitkin County’s adoption of a resolution urging peaceful solutions as a matter of U.S. policy, while Stirling criticized the Aspen City Council’s refusal to take up a similar measure.

“I repudiate the notion that local government could not or should not participate in this sort of thing,” Ireland said.

Stirling and other members of the 1989 City Council brought a resolution urging a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iraq to the current council for adoption, but four members declined to take any action on it.

“We need some help here in Aspen,” Stirling said. “Aspen has a long tradition of speaking out on important issues of the world.”

The council’s refusal to take a stand probably won’t even come up as an issue in the upcoming city election, Ireland lamented.

The next step for the peace movement, Garofalo predicted, is voting in the 2004 presidential election.

“We must get out and vote in 2004. We must make sure that there is a Democratic dove in the White House, not a Democratic hawk, because you get the same-old, same-old,” she said.

Ireland urged citizens to get involved now, noting the candidates will be chosen by this time next year.

“If you’re not active before that, you’re not really going to have a say,” he said.

“If you’re just waiting to cast your vote . you aren’t exercising your rights and your civic duty as a citizen,” Myers agreed. “You need to be active in doing so. You need to be reading, questioning, critically thinking. Instead of talking about the weather and how the powder was or could have been, you need to be talking about the issues.”

Garofalo warned activists in the peace movement to brace themselves for a backlash, if “by some miracle,” war is averted, but the United States is the target of another terrorist attack.

“The news will frame it that the antiwar movement is responsible for weakening America, undermining its credibility,” she said. “I do believe that we will be targets of physical violence and verbal assaults because I think the press and the government will not miss an opportunity to pin another extremist strike on the antiwar movement if it succeeds in stopping this war.

“So we have to be ready to mobilize to protect ourselves and protect our integrity in the media and on the streets, because that peace sign will become more galvanizing if war is halted and we are struck again.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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