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Giving Peace One More Chance


The family of antiwar organizations in Cambridge has produced a new member--the New England Coalition to Free Saigon's Political Prisoners.

Among its parent organizations are the American Friends' Service Committee, the Indochina Peace Campaign, Clergy and Laity Concerned and the Greater Boston Peace Action Coalition--all of whom have representatives in the new group.

The coalition came alive in August, when members resolved to direct their protests at two targets--the Saigon government, for its policies toward political prisoners, and the American government, for its aid to Vietnamese prison systems.

(Amnesty International estimates that there are still about 100,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam. Other estimates set the figure at 200,000.)

"From the beginning it was kind of a quiet group," Rose Munro, who works mostly on the Coalition's media committee, said last week. "Not too much ideology was talked about, it was just a thing of bringing the issue before the people."

The issue in question is the apparent use of American money for mass arrests and torture of political dissenters, which might be expected to upset large numbers of people. The weak response to the Coalition so far indicates otherwise, however, and none of its members seem quite certain why.

"The war is apparently over, the troops are home, Americans aren't dying," Munro said. "All of a sudden one day I felt: here I am, the Lone Revolutionary...people do want very much to put it in the back of their minds."

The group's main focus so far has been lobbying with representatives in Congress, especially New Englanders, to cut off appropriations for aid to South Vietnam.

But here, too, the record is discouraging. The Senate, traditionally more receptive to antiwar feelings than the House, just passed a foreign aid budget in which the largest item was aid to Indochina--much of which will be used for military or police work.

Among Massachusetts senators, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is receptive to the Coalition, but Sen. Edward Brooke has been less friendly. In the House, Rep. Michael Harrington is the only delegate who has expressed strong sympathies.

The Coalition's public activities so far have included publicity campaigns for antiwar programs such as last week's "No Peace, No Honor" forum at BU. The group also stages occasional guerrilla theater pieces and film showings for church and community gatherings. Plans are now hinted for a full-fledged series of demonstrations to protest activities of local businesses or organizations connected to the American involvement in South Vietnam.

The Coalition's meetings--usually held Monday nights at the Catholic Student Center, 20 Arrow Street--draw about 25 people. Despite the crawling pace of the group's progress, however, organizers like Munro seem to plan no cutbacks in their efforts. "If enough response comes from the people, supposedly according to democracy the people will prevail," she said.

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