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Honking for peace and free speech

By Penelope Mathiesen / April 30, 2003



In the lingering light of a spring evening, I sit in my station wagon, stuck in rush-hour traffic at the single stoplight in our small Indiana town. I'm seven or eight vehicles back in the line, not paying much attention. Suddenly I realize that the corners of the intersection, usually empty of pedestrians at this time of day, are populated by groups of teenagers holding handmade signs. Right here in rural mid-America, I've run into an antiwar demonstration.

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My mind sweeps back more than 30 years to the passionate protests that rocked our California campus at the height of the Vietnam War. But these are just high school students, their faces excited and apprehensive, daring and shy at the same time. This is, after all, the most conservative corner of our county. It's no light decision to bare their feelings in such a public way, right in front of the town hall.

"Honk for Peace," painted in bright colors on stark white poster paper, challenges the passing motorists. As the stoplight cycles through its changes and streams of traffic proceed through the intersection, I hear only one horn toot - from a pickup truck, the driver's intent uncertain. I think of how the Vietnam War tore my generation apart and divided the country. I wish a different fate for these young people and their future.

The signs and the hopeful faces behind them turn toward the vehicles as they inch forward. As I pull through the intersection, I look up, lift my right hand from the steering wheel, and make the peace sign. I'm almost old enough to be these kids' grandmother, but the flash of recognition on their faces makes a bridge across the generations. My eyes fill with tears.

In this country, at this time, they have the freedom to express what is in their hearts and the courage to do it. I hope that will always be so.

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