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Monday, 30 May 2011

PEACE VIGIL - Bring our troops back

A tribute to Capture of Osama Bin-Laden
On Sunday May 1st America rejoiced in learning that Osama bin-Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the terrorism attack of September 11, 2001, was killed and breathed a sigh of relief. 

As the story of the capture and assassination of Osama bin-Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs was unfolding the operation prompted questions. Why did we have to sacrifice so many lives and spend billions to bring Osama to Justice? Why couldn’t we do it without waging a war and sending our troops halfway around the world?  Why did we have to put our kids in harms way and send them to faraway lands to capture Osama? Perhaps the following quote by Winston Churchill, the famous British Prime Minister, says it best, "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else." 

Let’s have a ride to downtown Glendale to meet a dedicated corps of people who come together on Friday evenings to demonstrate opposition to the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, and see how the group perceives the operation that killed Osama bin-Laden

They call themselves the Glendale Peace Vigil.  They come every Friday – rain or shine.  They bring signs, banners and their hopeful spirits.   They are there to fight injustice.  They say war makes our lives less safe because it creates enemies for America – it brings terrorism, it depletes our coffers and it consumes the money that can be spent on the country’s infrastructure. 

Perhaps there are thousands in Glendale, who believe in their hearts that the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan are futile and that our troops should be returned home.  But only this handful of Glendalians sacrifice the comfort of their homes and make their voices heard by showing up on Friday evenings to protest the wars and the mistakes of the government.  They meet from 5 to 7p.m. at the southwest corner of Brand and Broadway.  Julianne Spillman and Nancy Kent spearheaded the group in September of 2002, six months before the troops were deployed in Iraq. 

Kent, a soft-spoken petite woman, with flat short hair in her 60s, is quick to iterate her opinion for the assassination of bin-Laden: “The irony is that bin-Laden wasn't even found in Afghanistan. He was in Pakistan.  And not captured by 100,000 ground forces in Afghanistan. It was a small sophisticated tracking effort of a few dozen.” She points that the war in Afghanistan has already cost us so much, in terms of the lives of our soldiers and many civilians.  She adds, “The only thing a war does is to create more Osamas.”

Who are these people? The Peace Vigil started during the fall of 2002.  Kent recounts the story, “There were a lot of protests against the war of Afghanistan that was already underway and people were against the upcoming War in Iraq. The main Vigil was in front of the Federal building on Wilshire.  Julianne and I thought instead of driving to Wilshire, why not to start our own group. That’s how we formed the Glendale Peace Vigil.” She continues, “At the beginning, before the war of Iraq got on its way, there were more people, but after the war in Iraq started, the number has dropped. At the beginning we were getting 20 to 40 people, but the number has gone down and now only eight or ten regularly show up. In case of rain we get protection under the overhang of the Glendale Galleria.”

Julianne Spillman has a knee problem so she comes in her scooter-wheelchair.  She is in her 70s.  She is from Michigan where she was active in peace groups before coming to Glendale.  She says proudly that she has brought the Raging Grannies to California. 

The Raging Grannies movement was founded in Canada and has been expanded to Israel, Japan, Greece, England and the United States.  The group makes its message of peace heard through parodies that they stage on street corners.

Julianne in her scooter is holding a curious sign printed in red and blue. It’s hard to tell what it means: “STOP – WAR on WORKERS.”  It refers to taking away the rights of the Union in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. She wears the group’s white T-shirt that has a picture of a white dove holding an olive branch in its beak. The “Glendale Peace Vigil” is printed with calligraphy. 

Kent holds in her hands two signs a small round Peace symbol and another sign that says 90.7 FM KPFK.  She explains, “KPFK is a commercial-free, listener-sponsored radio.” She smiles and continues, “Most radio stations are owned by large corporations or oil industries. We’d like to encourage people to listen to KPFK, during their morning commute.”  She passes small size 4-by-5-inch yellow flyers with information about KPFK radio. The flyer promotes the syndicated program of the news “Democracy Now!” hosted by investigative journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez.  Monday to Friday 6 to 7a.m., which repeats at 9a.m.  She emphasizes, “KPFK is ‘powered’ by the people without a corporate filter.” Kent wears the Peace T-shirt.

A few feet away from Kent is Sharon Weisman, a tall woman in her 60s.  Her hair is in simple ponytail.  She also wears the group’s white T-shirt.  Her sign reads, “NO WAR. NO EMPIRE, NO OCCUPATION.” That’s self-explanatory.  But she likes to educate me.  She says, “The United States spends 46 percent of the total money globally spent on military, whereas China spends only 6.6%.”
A man approaches.  He is wearing a white dress shirt black dress pants and a baseball cap.  He identifies himself as Vahraz from Iran.  He has joined the group six years ago.  He holds a yellow sign protesting the bombing of Libya.  The yellow sign has a website:  He explains A.N.S.W.E.R  is a coalition that was formed in September of 2001 to end racism and to stop wars.  He tries to explain the absurdity of any war.  
Further down, Norm Anderson and his wife Pearl Anderson are sitting on their folding chairs and behind them rainbow colored flags are willowing.  They’re wearing black  T-shirts with purple letters – it reads:  STR8 – AGAINST – H8  Norm explains the puzzle:  STR8 means: straight.  H8 means: hate.  
The message is: “Straight people, against Hate. “ Number 8 stands also for proposition 8 which overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that the same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.”

Norm says they are opposing not only wars but also any injustice, in general. He points to a button among several buttons pinned on his and his wife’s T-shirts.  The button reads: “The true Cost of war.”  There is a date: March 19, 2011.  Norm explains, “On that day my wife and I marched in Hollywood opposing the wars. 

Andersons volunteer for Courage Campaign, an organization supporting gay marriage.  Another button on their T-shirt says: “I do support the freedom to marry.”  Behind them there are several flags willowing. They get up from their folding chairs and extend the flags to show the colors and the sketches.  A few of the flags are multi-colored consisting of stripes in the colors of the rainbow: purple, blue, green, yellow and orange. At the corner there is a blue square with white imprints of two female symbols – a circle, connected to a cross. The other flag has the same rainbow strips but in the center it carries the medallion of the peace sign.

Henry Fliegel is in charge of distribution of flyers.  Today he is distributing an article published in the LA Times on Monday March 7, 2011 about the high cost of oil.  The article tells the history of how United States, during the cold war, trying to ward off the expansion of communism in the Middle East, they decide to make allies with countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, by furnishing those countries with weapons and promising military backing in case of an invasion of Soviet Union.
The article criticizes all eight Presidents from Nixon to Obama who have not been able to solve the nation’s energy problem and dependency to foreign oil.  The article finishes with the following paragraph: “The president recently described Libya’s oppression of popular unrest as unacceptable. It is. But so is our longstanding failure to address our inadequate domestic policies concerning oil.”

Every Friday Henry prints and brings a batch of new flyers – 200 of them.  Last week he was distributing an old article from the Wall Street Journal of almost two years before – Monday June 1, 2009 by George McGovern, a former U.S. senator and the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate.  The title: My Advice for Obama.  First Mc Govern advises Obama to pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by November of 2009.  Second to use the military budget to create more jobs, to upgrade the decaying infrastructure and the most importantly to built a high-powered railway system. 
Reverend Skip Lindeman of La Canada Congressional Church, is not part of the Peace Vigil but when asked about the verdict of killing of bin-Laden he brings an analogy: “We may remember the many-headed Hydra of Greek mythology.  What that particular myth says is that if you cut off one head, another grows in its place.” He continues, “I suspect that’s what will happen with al-Qaeda. Osama won’t hurt us anymore, but there are plenty of Hydra heads just waiting to step in and be the next revered terrorist.”

In Montrose area of Glendale, there is another Peace Vigil that meets every Friday evening from 5:30 to 7p.m. at the northwest corner of Honolulu and Ocean View.  The Montrose group has a bigger attendance – sometimes the number reaches to over 15.

The group keeps their vigil next to Vietnam Memorial, built in 1968, which is considered the first in the country.  Same as the downtown group, they bring their banners and flags.  Although the site next to Vietnam Memorial, may seem to be relevant to the theme of “No War,” but Ms. Medford says their location is controversial, because the merchants’ association on Honolulu takes it as a disrespect to soldiers killed in Vietnam…

When asked the question about the death of bin-Laden, Roberta Medford, one of the main founders of the group, says, “The success of concentrated police action, conducted by a small group, huge in skills and backed by superb intelligence should make us stop and seriously question our reliance on an occupying army of 100,000 in Afghanistan.”

Nancy Hutchins, another member of the group, comes direct from work in her high-heel pumps and dressed in a career suit. She holds a beat-up sign saying: “WAR IS OVER.” The words are part of the title of a popular song composed by John Lennon and his wife – Yoko Ono.  The complete title is: “Happy Xmas, War is Over” – it is a protest song about the Vietnam War.

As the group is shuffling to get ready, a young man approaches and introduces himself as Hayk Alcyan, a veteran of US navy, who has served four years from 2006 to 2010 in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He expresses his disdain about the group protesting the wars especially next to Vietnam Memorial.  Jeannel Lavieri who has joined the group in 2007, tries to explain that the group supports and appreciates the military sacrificing their lives and their families to serve the country.  But Alcyan, not satisfied with her response and still arguing and trying to raise his voice, lives the scene muttering to himself, “There will always be wars as long as humans are living on this planet…” He returns to the “Coffee Bean” café, across the street, from where he had noticed the group, to continue his studies. 

A few years ago in March of 2009, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-in-protest, the Montrose Peace Vigil recreated the Bed-in scene at the corner of Ocean View and Honolulu.  On March 25, 1969, the couple had spent a week at their presidential suite at the Amsterdam Hilton to protest the war of Vietnam by inviting the world’s press into their hotel room.

The Montrose group was created in 2006 and same as the main Glendale Peace Vigil in downtown Glendale are vigilant to continue their quest until all troops are called back from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ever heard the famous quote by Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist? "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Perhaps these two small Peace Vigil groups will change the world and bring Peace on Earth, a virtue that Alcyan doesn’t believe in it. 


  1. This is an excellent piece, Catherine, and drives home some truisms more people need to consider. I liked your 4th paragraph ("They call themselves the Glendale Peace Vigil."): short punchy sentences, active verbs, sets the scene nicely.
    The article is long, however, which could turn people off. One way to combat that is long blocks of text is to use boldface lead-ins every 4th or 5th paragraphs to break up the text; makes it seem less formidable.
    Keep up the good work. - Ken Fermoyle

  2. The interesting questions posed at the beginning already arose in 2001 when it seemed that Bush jr. used Twin Tower Terrorists as an excuse for waging two wars - which cost many more lives! That is a tragedy.

    Not to belittle the terrible losses in New York, but my first thought was that the annual traffic losses in US exceeds the number of casualties in the New York attack.

    Further, the precautions around New York had been critisized before the attack, and also the reactions on the Somalia attacks played a role: There should be a war against these bandits which US could win.

    These things tell us that the Afghan and Iraq wars were not well premeditated but happened as a result of many tendencies pushing in one direction and some politicians arguing with right out lies.

    The former soldier coming to the corner and telling you that there will always be war has a point, maybe he is right, there is at least theories that say that the military needs a special kind of people - this is demonstrated very oddly in the last part of Spielberg/Hank produced "Pacific" series, the soldiers returning from killing and violent battles are considered no good for normal jobs. "You have no education" as one HR puts it.

    We - the audience - get a condensed story of how these fabulous guys in spite of that manage to lift themselves into good careers - or should I say peaceful lives. But they were exceptions, I am afraid.

  3. Dear Friends, Ken and Dax, thanks for your interest in my "long" narrative about Peace Vigil and thanks to leave your comments.