- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

A small group of activists yesterday beseeched last-minute holiday shoppers in Northwest to reconsider their choice of children's toys.
A group of about eight demonstrators representing a variety of coalitions and networks dedicated to promoting responsible and peaceful playthings spent an hour outside Metro Center passing out leaflets that asked parents to pass up GI Joe and "Mortal Kombat," and for that matter all toy guns, grenades, rifles and tanks.
"Ho, ho, ho, war toys have got to go," Manassas resident John Steinbach chanted. Mr. Steinbach dressed as Santa Claus and protested the violent toys on behalf of a group called the Gray Panthers.
From a plastic Woolworth's bag, Mr. Steinbach gave passing children examples of what he called more appropriate toys that he had bought at a dollar store. They included plastic Harry Potter spectacles, a race car, two stuffed dinosaurs, a puzzle map of the world, a Slinky and a deck of playing cards.
Mr. Steinbach insists he's not trying to create a generation of wimps, but says that action figures and video games in recent decades have made violence more personal and more pervasive than the pop guns and toy soldiers of years past.
"We're not talking about bows and arrows, we're talking about really severe themes of violence," he said. "Bottom line is, we want people to think."
A few parents stopped and had their children pose for pictures with Mr. Steinbach. A few more nodded as they passed pretty standard reactions, according to the activists, who have been staging similar demonstrations every Christmas for the past 20 years.
"It's mixed," said M.J. Park of Mount Vernon, a teacher and mother of six who represented the Little Friends for Peace. "There's always a group that's very supportive. Some people just look at us like we're crazy."
Mrs. Park said she's tired of watching children act out video-game violence on school playgrounds.
But, of course, there could be no discussion of war toys without a discussion of war. And after September 11, a campaign against GI Joe risks being seen as downright unpatriotic.
But the activists say that's not the case.
"For me it's all the more important to come out and see people who disagree and want to advocate different methods," Mrs. Park said. "I'm against terror, too. I'm against acts of terror and I think those people need to be stopped but not violently and not like they do in video games."
Or as Nai Kuumba, a D.C. resident and another Gray Panther, sees it, taking the guns from the toy chests is only the first step in taking the guns off the streets and the battlefields.
"We have to start children off early so we don't have to send their fathers off to war or to prison," she said.


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