Peace Signs

Third–generation activist Luchita Rodriguez and her friends find the missing rally bus — and a fresh, family-style fight against war in Iraq

Seven or eight seats down, Rubac's daughters and 13-year-old granddaughter are wedged into two seats, smiling at this matron of marching. It's a rousing spiel they've heard before. They've all grown up watching Rubac fight for what she believes in. Now the rest of the bus is getting a taste.

Even before she enlisted in the protests over Vietnam, Gloria Rubac was a troublemaker.

When she was 14, she shimmied with an African-American student at a high school dance in Oklahoma City. A chaperone witnessed this affront to the state civil codes and promptly phoned Rubac's parents. She only made things worse by telling her Louisiana-born mother that one out of every five whites from Louisiana had black blood. Her father duly grounded her indefinitely, beginning Rubac's lifelong pattern of civil disobedience. Rubac soon joined her priest and a church group for an integrated sit-in at a local lunch counter. Her father called the priest a communist. But Rubac always liked him, right up until he chartered a small plane into the heart of a South American jungle and was never heard from again.

Ed Cavazos and Lindsey McEwing talk peace on the long ride.
Stephen Boudreaux
Ed Cavazos and Lindsey McEwing talk peace on the long ride.
Demonstrators gather at the Mecom Fountain every Friday night.
Daniel Kramer
Demonstrators gather at the Mecom Fountain every Friday night.

Rubac moved to Houston in 1968 and stayed in touch with her parents until a few years later, when she went to see Abbie Hoffman at an antiwar rally in Memorial Park. Rubac's parents saw her on TV and that was the last they cared to see of her until 1989.

"I had always been a daddy's girl, until I got political," says Rubac, a teacher at Wilson Elementary and co-host of Fight Back on KPFT.

Rubac married a local activist named Alex Rodriguez, who was arrested and charged with trying to kill a cop at what Rubac calls a "Zionist fund-raiser" in 1973. Rodriguez and others who were arrested at that rally became known as the Houston Five. He beat the rap after two years.

Even after almost losing her husband, and being arrested twice herself, Rubac never quit protesting. And her two daughters were literally born into that life. She went into labor with Lucha during a demonstration in support of a farmers union, and then with Joaquina while picketing for local teachers. Her daughters, who mark their formative years by what rallies they attended, joined Rubac for the January 18 demonstration. With them was Lucha's daughter, Luchita.

After 9/11, a coalition of religious and political groups formed International ANSWER in New York, and chapters sprouted across the country. Rubac joined and co-organized the Houston ANSWER contingent for an October 2002 rally at the Capitol. By then, she had already logged eight 30-hour bus trips to D.C. rallies.

During the Vietnam protests, Rubac says, Nixon publicly shrugged off the masses who assembled outside the White House.

"But he was really peeking through the blinds," she says. "And I'm sure George Bush is, too."

"Ffun," recorded by the Memphis group Con Funk Shun in 1977, is one of the world's funkiest songs. Its infectious horn riffs propelled it to No. 1 on the R&B charts and 23rd on the pop charts. Then it faded away -- at least until 3 a.m. outside Stockton, Alabama, when Henderson plugs it into the bus's sound system.

By that time, the overhead lights are off and nearly all talking has ceased. Henderson, innocently thinking he will take this downtime to energize himself, Con Funk Shun-style, accidentally turns on all the speakers throughout the bus.

Wary passengers, who were sleeping for the first time since leaving Houston eight hours before, jolt awake to the propulsive bass and high-pitched vocals.

Fed up with the funk, a middle-aged high school music teacher fumbles his way to the front and offers Henderson his Discman and headphones in exchange for his turning off the music. Henderson objects -- he's not allowed to wear headphones while driving, and he's not giving up Con Funk Shun.

"What am I supposed to do?" Henderson pleads. He flips the song to the front speakers and turns down the volume.

Tiffs are rare, despite a 60-hour round-trip in cramped conditions that would drive less peace-loving beings to homicide. Maybe it's the number of vegetarians, or the collective hours devoted to yoga and reading up on New Age enlightenment and Noam Chomsky, but this group clicks immediately.

The journey begins around 5 p.m. Thursday at Mosque 45. Some arrive with a friend or two, others by themselves. Most are from Houston, but some have made longer drives.

The guy stroking his black beard is Ed Cavazos. He drove in from Austin. He's a 25-year-old systems administrator who sometimes feels alone in his opposition to war. Being with all these people makes him feel better, more powerful, he says.

Lori Ramirez holds the African drum called a djembe. She's from San Antonio. She protested against Vietnam, marching through downtown Berkeley with a candle while army snipers perched on the rooftops. She gave up the protesting life to raise seven kids, but now she's back.

In the hippie skirt is Kate Sprague of Nacogdoches. She started Students for Peace on campus at Stephen F. Austin.

The balding man with the glasses is Dean Tucker from Beaumont. He'll tell you everything you never knew about medical marijuana and how Hearst and Dupont got the American government to outlaw hemp. He says he's a reverend in an obscure religion founded in the Brazilian rain forest, where shamans boil vines to produce a juice called ayahuasca that allows them to heal mind, body and spirit, as well as to see dead people.

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