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 Crossing Continents Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 15:46 GMT
Julian Pettifer - California dreaming?
Anti-war protestors
Scenes reminiscent of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations
Julian Pettifer

In the bars and underground magazines of San Francisco, there is political unease! California seems out of step with the rest of the USA. It recently voted Democratic while the rest of the country backed the Bush administration. Julian Pettifer meets the characters and activists who are part of this liberal trend.

If you judged the mood of the United States only by the bellicose noises coming out of Washington, you would imagine the whole Nation was infected by war fever.

The opinion polls tell a different story.

California map
About a third of the US don't support military action against Iraq because they feel a case for war has not been made.

The San Francisco Bay area has long been the centre of all kinds of dissent and radical thought.

Californians' contribution to the peace movement has been characteristically original.

The peace movement claims that support is growing amongst people who do not usually pick up placards and protest on the street.

Naked protest

Newspaper picture of the peace demo
The naked demo appeared in some centre-folds
"The Raging Grannies of Palo Alto" may be doing their bit but not quite so ingeniously as the "Unreasonable Women" of Marin County.

On a rainy Tuesday morning, 50 Marin County residents gathered in a meadow and stripped off their clothes.

As the rain fell, they arranged their naked bodies to spell out the word PEACE on the grass.

Donna Sheehan, the organiser, is 72. The youngest stripper is 23, pregnant and married to a serviceman.

None of the women had ever taken off their clothes in public before and although they felt vulnerable at the time it gave them a great sense of liberation and exhilaration.

Community action

Growing political unease is hitting the streets
While one California community organises against a war, another struggles to create a community.

Caspar is a small village on the north coast.

Once it provided hundres of jobs for men who cut down the redwood forests and shipped the timber south to rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906.

As the trees were logged out, Caspar declined and became depopulated.

Seven years ago about 500 residents (they call themselves the Casparados) realised they were facing a crisis.

They found that they were living on one of the last remaining undeveloped stretches of California coast and the man who owned it wanted to sell.

The rocky shore
The Casparados came to the environmental rescue
Unless they could do something to stop it, their quiet village could fall into the hands of developers and become a tourist trap like neighbouring Mendocino.

Michael Potts, a 57-year-old publisher, was one of the Casparados who decided they must take control of their own destiny.

He explained what might have happened if the developers had moved in. They were not given the chance.

The Casparados forged themselves into a community and put together a master plan for Caspar that looks ahead for the next 100 years. They were determined to protect their stunning environment.

Jerry and Susan Juhl
Jerry (Muppets) and Susan Juhl - passionate about Caspar
Somehow, they got together $3.5 million from state and federal grants to buy the land and safeguard its character forever.

I attended a town meeting, in the new Community Centre, where Prof. Randy Hester, the landscape architect they enlisted to help, presented his ideas and drawings for approval.

I was also introduced to Caspar's unusual style of governance.

Everything is done by consensus. Nothing happens unless everyone agrees.

It is time-consuming but it seems to work.

This may have something to do with the sort of people who live in Caspar: people like Jerry Juhl who was principle screenwriter for the Muppets and who now invests his creative imagination in Caspar.

This achievement could prove to be even more durable than Miss Piggy.

Crossing Continents: California
Thursday 26 December 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 1100 GMT
The programme is repeated on Monday 30 December 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 2030 GMT

Correspondent: Julian Pettifer
Producer: Lynne R Jones
Editor: Maria Balinska
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

  Donna Sheehan
The naked demonstration
  Michael Potts
"We worked very hard to get the beach protected"
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