“WE NEED TO WAKE UP.”
On the four corners of Indian Hill Blvd and Arrow Ave., a group of senior citizens courageously hold up yellow signs with bold black font written on them. Countless cars honk as they drive by in support and admiration, while some people open their windows and chastise them for their peaceful protest. However, these concerned senior citizens are not fazed by anyone’s critique, for they themselves have already lived through the trials, tribulations, and unnecessary deaths from the past. Some volunteers are army veterans, while some simply do not want to see the future repeat the mistakes of the past. Nonetheless, what unites these brazen hearts is their effort to end all wars.
Since the beginning of the Iraq War, these peaceful voices have stood proudly fighting for peace. For the past twelve years, they have occupied the four corners of the Claremont intersection with the intent of spreading their message of amity. One protestor, Carol Billings, explicated that all these concerned citizens were tired of the endless violence that seemed to perpetuate for eternity. It was not until Jim Lamb, community leader and organizer, came and inspired many other senior citizens, many who are residents of Pilgrim Place, to rise up and spread their word. Wearing a tye dye shirt, he was determined in reminding passersby’s there are other ways in which conflict can be resolved, and where violence and death served not as an outcome.
One of the concerned senior citizen was Chris Hartmire, who had been involved in activism for decades. Having served as a civil engineer in Philadelphia during the Korean War, he had lived through the eras of travesties that had afflicted lives from generation to generation. For decades, he had been involved in several political movements, from supporting the Farmers’ Union, to defending the rights of the homeless in Sacramento, to partaking in the protests against the Vietnam War where he supported draft resisters. He stated, “He hated these wars” and that the “U.S. is part of the disaster.”
Not all interactions between the protesters and passerby’s have been friendly. One protester had said she had been called several names a myriad of times as she occupied the sidewalks. Others question their sensibility by arguing that “war is good for the economy,” because it serves as a “job and construction program.” Another profound justification for war that a protester had heard was that “you have to fight the wars to end all wars.”
However, the brigade of senior protesters are not discouraged, nor vexed by these arguments. For the entirety of their years of occupying the sidewalks, they have voiced their discontent with the constant stream of violence that perpetuates. “Like a chronic illness, it doesn’t go away,” described one of the protesters. As long as their continues to be war, they have no intention of silencing their calls for peace.
Before departing the four corners and heading home, they congregated in a parking lot on the south-east side of the cross-section to discuss their experiences. They had reminded me about the death toll of some of the wars they had seen through their time, including the hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and tens of thousands of American soldiers that had died in the Korean War. Various other discussions between the senior citizens arose, such as one protester’s experience with another fifty-five year old veteran who had approached him intimidatingly. Yet, when this man had approached the protester closely and raised his head, he told him despondently that his son had died in Iraq, and that war indeed left nothing good in its path.
When their protest had begun, they received an increased amount hostility from the public. Now after their years and years of perseverance, they had seen the public perception shift. Before they parted their ways, they left on a note of optimism noting that “enthusiasm is building.” As time continues and these senior citizens persist in their efforts, every car the passes by will hear the voices of these peacemakers, and perhaps they too will join them in the true fight to end all wars, where war is not fought by weapons and bombs, but with voices for peace.
— Alexander Le