• August 11, 2015
A small group of people are standing at the corner of East Avenue and Goodman Street holding signs with messages such as War is Not the Answer, Keep No Enemies, Wage Peace, and One Earth, One Human Family
As I take my customary bicycle ride through the Neighborhood of the Arts, I often see the gathering, there and also at the Memorial Day Parade. This Sunday, I finally stopped to learn more about these peace activists and their long vigil, ongoing for more than 10 years every Sunday from noon to 1pm.
As explained to me by Judy Bello, the vigil began as part of large demonstrations in Rochester and nationwide protesting the anticipated invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. During that heated period, the vigilers were often met with very angry reactions by passers-by. As Judy says, after Iraq was invaded, “most people felt either that the demonstration was pointless, or that it was unpatriotic. This was the time of yellow ribbons everywhere. Americans stood with the victims of 9/11 and the U.S. soldiers, believing the story that Iraq somehow threatened the U.S.”
Now, more than a decade later – after all the killing and destruction and now the rise of ISIS – it is extraordinary for the group to meet anyone who thinks the invasion of Iraq was a good idea.
The vigil could have ended years ago as Iraq slipped out of the headlines. But, fundamentally, the message that peace is possible doesn’t end. As Hank Stone said, “Like ourselves, passers-by don’t like the current wars, and are already against the next war. I believe if our government understood the depths of current anti-war sentiment, they would try to get control of the military and weapons industry proponents of war.”
Hank also illuminates the vigil from a slightly different perspective: “Personally, I find the vigil brings ME peace. As they say, I participate in the vigil not to change the world, but to keep the world from changing me.”
After ten years, many people who come through the neighborhood know and expect the hardy vigil every Sunday. They honk and wave, send a “thumbs up’ or hold up their fingers in a peace sign. Occasionally, someone will call an insult or express anger, but this is rare. Walkers stop to chat and pet the peace pug. Supporters bring hot coffee in the winter. Bicyclists, like myself, and even people in wheelchairs come through to chat for a moment before rolling on.
More so, when a crisis arises, more people join the vigil. This week support for the nuclear deal with Iran was paramount, the group had a timely message for Senator Schumer.
Yes, there are only a handful left on the corner these days. But, as Judy so eloquently says: But our presence is a seed, Most people want to avoid war and pursue peace. That’s the message that needs to back to those in power. We are surrounded by a silent majority of peace lovers.
They are not alone on the corner of East and Goodman.
Note: To prepare this post, I retrieved a battered No Iraq War sign kept by my mother in her garage. I was proud to remember when she and her friends held that sign more than ten years ago, twice at protest marches in Washington and once in New York.
Also, recently I have been writing about the possible restoration of the World War One Austrian Cannon to its Monument in Washington Square Park. After I explained the situation to the group, they – and I – are considering creating another plaque to be added to the Monument. The plaque would simply be Wilfred Owen’s war poem, Dulche Et Decorum Est and a brief explanatory text reminding us that 72,000 men died in the cannon’s battle. More on the Austrian Cannon Monument including from Rachel Barnhart
For more on vigil, see first episode of the ‘Hank Funnies’ here.