Reports from Discussion Groups

October 18, 2008 Conference

“How to Prevent War on Iran AND on the U.S. Constitution”


Conference held at:
Susan B. Anthony Center, Berkshire Community College,


Sponsoring groups:

Global Issues Resource Organization (GIRO) of BCC

Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice

Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace



[Note: Reports from the groups appear in the order in which
the groups were listed on the little piece of paper Merry Lathrop
distributed to the discussion facilitators and note-takers.]






1.      Back of the Lounge Group

2.     General Bartlett Room Group

3.     Front of the Lounge Group

4.     Back of the Cafeteria Group

5.     Falcon’s Nest Group

6.     G9 Group

7.     G10 Group



1.  Back of the Lounge Group


  1. The group talked about things they liked and didn’t like, and basically confirmed Scott Ritter’s statement that people on the left have many different priorities and thus are different from the simpler “god, guns, and gays crowd”, which is content to harp on a few issues on which it has strong feelings.


  1. Some specific ideas on which people expressed different opinions were:


·        the value [positive or negative] of being in conflict with police and/or going to jail (some members were strong on not doing those things);

·        the importance of integrity and of being well-dressed and appearing “mainstream” before the public;

·        the importance of calm and peacefulness in presentations;

·        the value of marches (some thought they were valuable; others thought they weren’t);


  1. Some specific possible actions that might be useful were mentioned and discussed, but again there was not complete agreement concerning them:


·        doing dramatic presentations (An example was offered: a parody could be done on the Constitution in which the actors would be dressed in powdered wigs and period costumes.  The actors would simulate the framing of the Constitution, and there would be interjections about how the Constitution is being violated now by things such as Guantanamo, illegal wire tapping and home searches, etc.);

·        having Town Hall forums;

·        arranging for panels and other events to educate people, e.g., having an attorney educate people on the Constitution; and

·        going door to door (there was a member of the group who had done this for a living and believes from personal experience that it’s a fruitful activity).



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2.  General Bartlett Room Group


·        Connect young generation with generations of citizens in other nations who are or potentially are involved in violent conflict.


·        Connect local and regional leaders at the national level, in terms of community social change and justice, an element of which is nonviolent conflict resolution.


·        Promote nonviolent communication.


·        Use new methods of communication; i.e. use technology wisely.


·        One participant talked about his involvement in tax resistance.


·        Strategy vs. Tactic – Scott Ritter indicated that the anti-war movement is primarily concerned with tactic. How do we move toward building more well-defined strategies? How can we multitask and not lose momentum toward achieving our primary goals?


·        Focus – We need to focus our message. We tend to get pulled in many different directions as activists. Where do we need to devote our limited time and other resources? This is a fundamental question. How do we limit the splintering of our time and energies?


·        How do we improve our ability and effectiveness in efforts to pressure for change and justice? Pressure must also come from our progressive leadership and allies.


·        Our ultimate goals are the same…so how do we raise awareness in our fellow citizens? What tools and methods can we employ to raise awareness about the benefits of nonviolence and diplomacy as alternatives to war?


·        Do we need to give up some of the stuff we do in order to concentrate fully on one goal? How can we better manage our overarching and interconnected tasks in efforts to meet specific anti-war goals?


·        Is what we do ineffective, e.g., demonstrating? Is that enough? What else can we do?


·        We must write letters to our representatives. This might seem like a small and inconsequential effort at the individual level, but it’s a start. The greater numbers of people who take the time to participate in their democracy and express their voice by contacting their representatives can and will make a difference. It starts with individuals.


·        Is the anti-war movement a win-lose scenario as Scott Ritter suggests? Or is it about living rightly in the world? Winning and losing is about competition and power – do we really want to adopt this philosophy as part of our mission and vision? Victory must not be achieved at all costs. If we attempt to end war by formulating new and innovative strategies through some sort of dualistic competition model, we risk creating new power structures which marginalize and oppress. If this is the result of our efforts, have we really achieved our goal of repudiating, discrediting and breaking down systems of violence and injustice? We seek to move away from a militaristic, capitalistic environment of decision-making and problem-solving, not to encourage it by adopting the same strategies. Nonviolence and peace is not about winning; it’s about raising awareness and building a sustainable culture of peace based on values and right living.


·        “Handbook to Higher Consciousness" by Ken Keyes was recommended.


·        We must educate people that war is NOT patriotic.


·        Leadership structure in anti-war movement must be permanent, whereas followers and activists within movements can be extended more across several tasks and initiatives.


·        It’s not necessarily about ending one act or one war, at least not as a central focus; rather it’s much more about protecting human security and creating a long-term, sustainable culture of peace through the protection of constitutional rights and human rights.


·        The usurping of constitutional rights and rise of executive power in the U.S. over the last eight years has been devastating to the culture of peace movement. Decisions are being made only by a small group of power elites in this country. How do we change that aspect of our government? What are going to do about it? Change our leadership?


·        How do we build a coalition over the long-term? We should take advantage of our numbers and communicate our values and needs in large scale. A revolution must take place in order to restore our constitution.


·        Knowledge is the key. We must inform through education. Since we already have the numbers, we must spread the knowledge to reduce ignorance.


·        Leadership takes training. Do we need to increase youth leadership training programs?


·        We need to encourage our youth to lead. How do we get our youth to become interested in the movement?


·        Can we organize larger scale walk-outs, strikes (i.e. economic disruption) and other nonviolent strategies and methods to raise consciousness and get our voices heard for change and justice?


·        If everyone would do one thing more…that would be a lot more.


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3.  Front of the Lounge Group




·        Need for more coordination between peace groups.

·        Need for more focus.

·        Distinguish between tactics and strategy.  Use tactics, but have a long-term strategy.

·        Platform to stand on.

·        Defend the constitution.

·        Network building.  Build coalitions.  Ask environmental clubs for help.

·        Your issues are our issues.




·        There is too much ignorance about what is going on in our name.

·        Facts may help prevent a war.

·        By understanding the patterns of U.S. aggression in the past, we may better understand the future.

·        File Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about how we helped Iraq and what we did to Iran in the 1980s.  Reagan papers were due for public viewing when Bush got the act changed.

·        Support civics lessons in school.  Volunteer for civics class.

·        Improve self-knowledge.  Emotions of fear and insecurity are used by politicians for political gain.  Playing the tough guy may make us feel more secure, but it makes our “adversaries” less secure and produces a more dangerous situation.  The more we know about how we are affected by our emotions, the less we can be manipulated, and the less likely we are to become reactionary.  The less we know about something, or the less contact, the more fearful we become.   The more conscious you become of your fears, the less likely you are to be swayed into doing something rash.

·        Write letters to the editor.

·        Desire -  Our society desires more goods and services, and an ever-increasing standard of living.  Public servants desire, and want to keep, power.  We desire a growing economy to have more jobs.  Politicians pursue policies to increase the economy, including policies such as regime change, war, and domination of others’ economies, which helps them stay in power.  Understanding the fundamental underpinnings of desire, and its eventual decrease, are crucial to peace.   At the present time we are locked in a global struggle with other great nations such as Russia and China because of excessive desire. 


Constitutional changes


·        Repeal the war powers act through a ballot initiative.  This might be achievable through organizations such as, national peace organizations, and progressive companies that do advocacy work.

·        Support the right of recall.

·        Change voting rules.

·        Publicize how politicians vote.

·        Foster responsibility towards the constitution.

·        Use the Constitutional tool of impeachment.


Use of money to achieve ends


·        Get money out of politics.

·        Vote with your dollar.  How you spend your money counts.  It helps determine whom, and if you send lobbyists, to Washington.

·        Do socially responsible investing.  You don’t have to invest in companies that make weapons.  You can invest in companies that have better human rights, better environmental policy, and better treatment towards women. 

·        Buy fair trade.  Look for the fair trade symbol on products.

·        Challenge where schools make investments, as we did to promote and cause disinvestment in South Africa during apartheid.


Civil disobedience


·        Grandstanding - like how Green Peace puts banners on top of buildings and harasses whaling ships.  Can get publicity, easy story a paper can write.  Would have good visuals.

·        When we do have a demonstration, have it on a weekday to maximize disruption.

·        Slow down on highway.




·        Treat media as friends to build a better relationship.

·        Media excludes coverage of many things we advocate.

·        Get a program on Pittsfield public television.



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4.  Back of the Cafeteria Group


Summary of discussions and ideas


The parameters for the discussion were given, and everyone introduced himself or herself.  Each person spoke and discussed the questions presented.


a)           Importance of Networking with one another.

b)           Building infrastructure and necessity of working together.

c)            Many in the group focused on candidates and the upcoming election.

d)           Some people discussed the “bottom up” strategy, and others said they thought that “top down” was more effective.

e)           Some expressed impatience with the “Peace Movement” and felt a change in approach was necessary.

f)              One member mentioned that majorities of the electorate, who have been polled, said that they are against the war, for a single payer healthcare plan, and for the impeachment of George Bush, yet neither of the two major candidates replicates the will of the public.


Ideas for Process


a)           Lobbying our own Congressperson, and having $200 from 2000 people in each congressional district pay for 3 lobbyists.

b)           Educating people in general, and especially children, by using speakers and kits for teachers as did the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (MLK’s civil rights group), having a long term vision.

c)            Changing the Media.  But many thought “Media” too hard to reform, and that our relationships were more important than what the media does or doesn’t do.

d)           Organizing meetings in peoples’ living rooms, and doing grass roots work which addresses the connection between economic and peace demands.

e)           Forums to be set up at the three colleges in Berkshire County: invite speakers, have students, advertise the forums to the general public, and invite the district's Congressperson.

f)              Non-violent resistance and going to jail for what people believe.

g)           Mobilizing on line 24/7 – targeted audience, difference design, have this very conference on line and available.

h)            Have a Constitutional Convention of sorts.

i)              Replicate what Code Pink has done, and use it as a model.  They purchased a house in DC; they go to all the important hearings and votes, have a constant “presence,” petition, and do local organizing.

j)              Carry out grass root movements like the PIRGs, which take one issue and work on it until it is accomplished.

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 5.  Falcon’s Nest Group


First, we generally agreed that the peace and antiwar movements have had some tactical successes, but that neither movement can say it is “winning.”


An example of a tactical success was given, having to do with the No Child Left Behind Act’s “opt out provision” (Section 9528) which allows for a student or parent to opt out of having personal information given to military recruiters.  For the 2004-2005 school year, when the student or parent was required to write a letter within the first five days of the school year, an extremely busy time for most families, only two parents of students at Pittsfield’s Taconic High School had their children's personal information withheld from recruiters.  After Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice successfully lobbied for changes which would: (1) give a longer window for opting out, and (2) change the method from writing a letter to initialing a pre-prepared form, the number of opt-outs changed dramatically.  In the 2005-2006 school year, when opting out was allowed throughout the whole month of September and no composing of an entire letter was required, a total of at least 124 THS students had their information withheld (48 seniors, 53 juniors, 15 sophomores, and eight freshmen). Pittsfield High School also saw a dramatic change, with at least 133 students having their information withheld.


There was some feeling that “winning” and “losing” are not good terms for evaluating the effectiveness of what the peace and antiwar movements have done and do.  One person also mentioned that we do not know whether protests and other activities of peace and antiwar groups have been the reason Bush has not [yet] attacked Iran.


Some ideas from the morning discussion:


·              We need to reach the mainstream media with ideas that can sell.  That means the ideas MUST have a firm foundation.  For an example, it was said that the impeachment movement is firmly founded on the U.S. Constitution, while the 9/11 Truth movement has no similar foundation.  Depending partly on timing, advocacy of causes without a firm foundation can undermine our advocacy of other causes that have a firm foundation.


·              The peace movement has many dimensions; the social justice and economic justice issues CANNOT be ignored or abandoned.  [This came up again in the afternoon session, after Joseph Gerson had addressed this point.]  We agreed that it is unnecessary and unwise to try to get people to unnaturally drop their advocacy for issues important to them just for the sake of having fewer issues, like the “guns, gays, & god crowd.”  There are specialists and there are generalists, and both are valuable.


·              Ralph Nader’s idea of finding 2000 people in each congressional district who would donate [annually] $200 and 200 hours of service was brought up.  We liked the potential benefits of this, and decided to refer to it as the “sustainable (as in ‘permanent’) campaign model.”  The $400,000 would allow the operation of three offices with staff in each district.  They would oversee all that is happening in Congress, something which is difficult or impossible for most citizens, and would call important facts uncovered to the attention of the people in the district.  This could serve some of the purposes of a “shadow government” in the British sense, by forcing government to be conducted more openly.  [In contrast, “shadow government” in American usage refers to the seedy conduct of government by nearly unidentifiable and unaccountable powers operating behind the scenes (i.e., in the shadows).]  An example was given of how we might have benefited from the “sustainable campaign model” in the past: people are overwhelmingly for ending the Iraq War, and for single-payer health care.  But it is almost as though they haven’t been heard.  Perhaps, if we had the sustainable campaign model in operation, Congress might have been pressured by an alerted citizenry into acting to serve the people instead of special interests.


·              We need to examine our prejudices and take some approaches that might not be natural to us.  For example, the Nature Conservancy has saved more land by far than any other group, and it did this in large part by putting on suits and ties and dealing with members of the boards of corporations.  Some of us have such negative feelings toward large corporations that the possibility of working this way might not even occur to us.


·              We should think carefully about how we frame things.  An example of good framing was given by biologist E.O. Wilson who, by presenting sound environmentalism as “Creation Care,” found common ground with many folk from the religious right who have become allies with him.


·              We need to consider how our demonstrations appear to observers.  Sometimes we might be confusing folk.  Think of how it looks to observers when, at a vigil, someone holding a “Save Darfur” sign is standing next to a person holding a sign saying, “All war is wrong.”  Which is it?  Is every use of military force wrong, or should force be used to stop genocide?


·              We need to network!  Monthly meetings of the Amherst area’s Interfaith Network were given as a good example.  By meeting monthly, the participants are able to keep each other informed and often get on the same page.  Then they can be more effective when they contact their representatives.  We agreed that we should all stay in regular contact with the offices of our congresspersons, but that it is helpful if we can let our congresspersons know that we belong to groups whose members agree with us.


·              We should encourage folk to give consideration to the long term.  The natural tendency of people is to respond to immediate threats (or benefits) before distant threats (or benefits).  Our congresspersons are well aware of that.  A NY congressperson refused to vote for a bill which might have threatened Watervliet Arsenal jobs even though the bill could in the long term have produced even more jobs than the Arsenal provides.


Ideas from the afternoon discussion:


First, a fair amount of this session was spent comparing some of the ideas of Joseph Gerson with ideas expressed earlier by Scott Ritter.  As you will see below, many of the ideas expressed in the afternoon were general ideas rather than suggestions of specific things to do.


While we had a consensus that both speakers made plenty of good points, there were some notable areas in which more people felt Joseph Gerson resonated with them more than Scott Ritter did.


·              As mentioned above (because the ideas of narrowing down our issues and stating them concisely like the “guns, gays & god crowd” also came up in the morning), we concluded rather firmly after hearing from Gerson that it is both unwise & unnecessary to try to get liberals to drop their advocacy of issues important to them for the reason of “effectiveness.”


·              The majority of people in our group thought that Scott Ritter’s strong emphasis on winning and losing has drawbacks.


o             Sometimes it is important to undertake activities which will not produce an immediate result, as, for example, in planting seeds.  We should be prepared for some of our ideas to take years or decades to produce fruit, as there are always a lot of people resistant to change.


o             Also, too much emphasis on keeping score and on winning or losing, by treating the efforts of us and our opponents as like a zero sum game, hinders us from making progress other than by simply winning.  It is possible, at times, to make compromises or find other ways in which two or more sides each benefit.  That’s a lot harder when the focus of both sides is on “defeating the enemy.”


o             Also, when there is a clash of values on one level, sometimes it is better to try to find common ground by examining a higher order value shared by both sides than it is to simply harden our resolve to “stick it out” until our side wins and the other side loses.


·              We agreed strongly with Gerson that a true peace movement cannot exclude things like social and economic justice, equality, and civil rights.


·              The point was made that we should pointedly appeal to people’s interests.  An example was given by showing a poster intended for young folk which read, “If they bomb, you get drafted.”


·              In response to that last point, it was pointed out by another participant that it is better to educate regarding basic values of applicability over countless issues than it is to give people a pre-packaged set of issues they “should support.”


·              We agreed that hope for a better future demands we support good education.  Many or most issues today are way too complex to be understood, and problems far less likely to be solved, without good education.


·              It was pointed out that young people are saying, “I need someone to listen to me!”  We need to listen to them, and consult them when we are considering events to find out how THEY would want things done.  There’s nothing wrong with assisting young people to put on their own event.


·              It was pointed out that there is a danger of thinking too much, and not accomplishing much as a result.


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6.  G9 Group


1.            Marine Corps does not teach you to do good; it’s a sociopathic organization.


2.            Why do they lie to us?  Understanding people’s reason for lying is powerful, as it is a key to their weakness.


3.            25,000 longshoremen in L.A. struck; this was an effective coalition, and a reminder that such action is possible.


4.            Many things haven’t happened militaristically which could have happened (i.e., they may have been prevented - e.g., the brake put on Iran initiative), and this may very much be due to the anti-war movement’s efforts.  It’s important to keep this in mind.


5.            Strategy: know which corporations support the establishment; boycott.


6.            Community – brotherhood: The use of the Internet as a tool which can help people in coming to common ground needs to be constantly refined; community and brotherhood is an underlying principle as well as a strategy.


7.            The concept of winning and losing is a dehumanizing one.  There is an alternative vision, that all of us are in this together instead of it being us against them.  Having this alternative vision would benefit us all.


8.            What is it that we have to offer?  We need a clearer articulation of what we are “selling.”


·        Money is being wasted.

·        Our Children

·        Planetary Sustainability

·        Human nature essentially desires peace (proof PTSD).


9.            We fall victim to the lies told by the media; having access to the truth is challenging.  We need to foster critical thinking in ourselves and in those with whom we talk.


10.       Understanding where others come from will lessen fear; this must be true for us in the anti-war movement.


11.       We are brothers/sisters; the bailout opens the opportunity to underscore that we are in this together – and fellow victims.


12.       Since we are in this together, we need to eliminate partisanship in language and organization, and eliminate mocking/name-calling.


13.       Question: Is the Constitution the key foundational basis for our community, or - perhaps more validly and effectively - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?


14.       The notion of a single issue approach may be unrealistic.  There are issues which are core and integrated into the antiwar focus, e.g., civil liberties.


15.       Our strength is in the fact that we believe that war is the last resort; we must act like we believe this.


16.       Our national movement is weak, partially demobilized by the 2004 election; the grassroots level needs to step up.  Here are some things we can do!


·       Study Howard Dean’s techniques for mobilizing/ Obama’s & other populist movements.


·       Reinvigorate our sense of power as individuals.  Use strikes, boycotts (study the labor movement).


·       Dec. 31st is the termination date for the UN agreement providing for our current status in Iraq.  We can campaign to work against its renewal.


·       Use Naomi Wolf’s 10 Steps to Fascism as a guide for action.


·       Look at war from the perspective of the medical model, treating war as a disease.


·       Organize with outreach to other groups: e.g., run a GI Coffee House; mobilize students.


17.       Structure, focus, and sustainability are keys to be looked at; thought about the war machine is self-destructive; the war will end, but so much needs to be done to promote peace.


18.       Without national structure, it is difficult for grassroots organizations to maintain focus and direction.


19.       Optimism can be fed by the Internet, MoveOn, youth energy.


20.       Support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; commit to building and articulating a vision of global community.


21.       Remember the young people.  Our time as effective individuals on this planet is limited, so we need to work aggressively to connect to young people.  We should also work to connect young people in the U.S. with young people in the global community.


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7.  G10 Group


Morning discussion session.


First two questions with introduction:


1.      What is the message that we’re trying to project?

2.      How are we going to sell it?


·        Constitution

·        Environment

·        War

These can all be related as easily as Guns, God, Gays.  Do SOMETHING!


·        Honor and respect all life and each other.

·        Allow for differences, be respectful.

·        There is an election every year; become a part of something political in your town.

·        Use a computer, be in touch.

·        At least once a year (1 per month?) write a letter to the editor on something that makes you angry; keep it simple, use humor.

·        Hierarchy is not the major point, having an objective is; come together and agree on an objective, e.g., the SaneFreeze movement was successful and focused.

·        SaneFreeze was very simple but had broader and deeper implications, esp. with other nations.

·        Part of the PEACE movement is not anti-war movement.

·        Agrees we should have separate movements for different issues and support each other.

·        One issue at a time and get that done, like getting this conference together, or getting counter recruiting in recruiting in the schools. This takes an organizational focus. There is value in being someone who does the tasks w/o being in charge.

·        The Free Speech movement sues people using the constitution.  It sues people.


Constitution: How do we use our rights as Americans to advance Peace?


·        Change in U.S. foreign policy: could this be a unifying objective?

·        Join the PTA: can’t expect good citizens if we don’t educate our children on the Constitution; support a course on Problems in Democracy.  The environmental movement is in view because kids were raised on Rain Forest Crunch!

·        “Just do it” (Friends in WWII ”just” saved Jews); take a hold at the local level and work it.

·        An objective could be to get bombing to stop, as a majority of people killed are innocent civilians

·        Take over the Right Wing focused campaigns: The Liberal Media, the call for Law and Order, need strategies to make people insecure about how things are running now; hire Madison Ave. to build campaigns for us?

·        Have TV ads of actors reading the Constitution; educate the public.

·        Tell our Representatives to follow the Constitution, educate our representatives!!

·        Observe/appreciate/educate about all the diversity of people who are peacemakers.



Afternoon Discussion Session


·        If I had $720 million (cost of Iraq war per day) what would I, as a government, as a people, do with it?


·        Are we agreeing with Scott Ritter’s points?


·        Gerson made a good point saying that we needed to address the needs of people to get them involved.


·        The focus on the draft made the difference between the 60’s/70’s and now, in terms of focus and impact; at that time everyone between the ages of 18 and 25 were faced with going into the services; people’s lives were directly effected.


·        After Kent State the anti-Vietnam War movement lost momentum.


·        Economics affects so many people, it could serve as Gerson’s point about “common security”… this directly effects peoples’ lives like in the 70s.


·        How can we translate that into action?


·        Without access to the media, how are we going to get our message out there?   Media is controlled by large corporations.


·        Kids these days are on the internet/cell phones/text messaging now; “the Viet Cong of the media.”


·        In the past the mainstream media was the avenue of information; now the internet/cell phones are more the major avenue of information/communication, so these must be used as major organizing arms of any movement.


·        How do we transform loosely integrated internet groups into an organization? Internet: simultaneous demonstrations worldwide and “flash mobs”.


·        What are the positive things out there?


o       Amy Goodman/Democracy Now, an example of good journalism;


o and, two helpful websites; Dmitri Orloff (Orlov?): Redefining Collapse, book.


·        The question is not what is a good source of news, but what IS the good news?


·        What are the kids on their blackberries talking about? Not about the war… some report that young adults want to hear about the solutions, e.g., alternative energy, organic gardening, etc.


·        Talk of paradigm shifts, shamans talking about new energy coming into the world, and change in our collective consciousness: these things give some folk hope.


·        Are we supposed to be lolled into not worrying about Iran because of what Joseph Gerson said? 


·        What gets YOU out of bed in the morning?


·        Working for peace is a lifelong occupation; the more you work at it the more you learn, and the more possibilities you see - like ripples in the pond.


·        There is diversity of different organizations all over the world.


·        The horizon theory: we see right now what is just above the horizon, but there is all this activity/thought going on right now that is just below the horizon; you never know when it will surface.


·        The Obama candidacy is a source of hope and awe.  When some of us were children, we could not even conceive of an African-American presidential candidate.


·        We can either decline into collapse and destruction or put energy into the evolution of mankind and positive human consciousness…. The latter is the “only game in town”.


·        Working with your own inner wrestling and compulsions is important, as is working to keep your own attitude positive.


·        Hope that out of the economic collapse will come the impetus for real change.     


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