Five years and counting, a peace vigil stands firm
In Needham, Mass., peace activists make weekly pleas to end violence and remain hopeful that their message is heard.
Most Saturday afternoons, Sue Fleming's family and friends know exactly where they can find her between 4 and 5 p.m. As leader of the Needham Interfaith Peace Initiative, she's typically on the town common in this suburb west of Boston, maintaining a peace vigil with a small group of like-minded residents.Skip to next paragraph
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For nearly an hour, in all kinds of weather, participants, including Mrs. Fleming's husband, Donald, hold hand-lettered signs bearing a variety of messages, hoping to catch the attention of pedestrians and passing motorists. Traffic is heavy as shoppers hurry to finish late-afternoon errands, dashing in and out of CVS and Harvey's Hardware across the street.
"Skillful diplomacy works," reads one sign. "War creates terrorism," states another. Other messages range from "End all torture" to "Do not bomb Iran," "Eliminate causes of terrorism," and "All nations are our neighbors."
Similar peace initiatives exist in other Boston suburbs – Arlington, Newton, and Milton, among them – and in cities and towns stretching from Chatham, N.Y., to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and from Stamford, Conn., to Seattle. Not all groups stage vigils. Some hold public events with invited speakers.
"There are lots of groups out there," says Mrs. Fleming. "They've sprung up like mushrooms."
Yet she and other activists regard their work as an underreported, sometimes even unreported, story. Some fault the media for not taking them seriously enough. Either newspapers don't cover events, Mrs. Fleming says, or if they do, they run a black-and-white photo and bury the story in the back of the paper. "They don't realize how passionate those of us who participate are and how important our message is."
She traces the beginning of these local peace vigils to the fall of 2002, before the Iraq war began. "At that time, everybody thought if they got out on the streets, they could stop the war," Mrs. Fleming says. "We had lots and lots of people."
After the war started, the group continued to protest, although its numbers dwindled. "A lot of people passing by were very dismissive of us, to put it nicely," she says. "They thought we were traitors. They yelled obscenities or would rush by in their pickup trucks and scream at us."
Over the years, pedestrians have stopped to argue with the group. Others come by to thank them for doing this. These days most comments they receive are positive, Mrs. Fleming finds.