Readers Take Action in Iraq

An Open Letter to a Neighbor

Brian, while you were tanking up your dad's pickup across the pump from me Sunday evening, you asked me why I and the other gray hairs had stood on the bridge, holding signs and candles for peace. I told you my reasons were personal and that I would send you an e-mail. So here it goes:

I was eight years old when the Germans came in. I remember their red flags with the black swastika in the middle. They sang something about “der Heimat”—their homeland, as they occupied mine. In the months that followed they took away neighbors, classmates, and friends because they were Jews or Gypsies. I remember my father handing out false identity papers, trying to save some of them. I remember him counseling farmers in our village to sabotage the war effort. I remember being hungry and cold. I remember classmates wearing black arm-bands and learning what a war orphan was. I remember chipping mortar off old bricks, amid huge piles of rubble where houses once stood, as we rebuilt after the war was finally over.

Then another army occupied us. Their red flag had a hammer and sickle on it. They made us change our constitution and our flag. They, too, took away friends and neighbors, some never to return. I remember being taught in school how theirs was the greatest country on earth and how Comrade Stalin was the greatest leader—confusing for a child, for just a couple of years earlier Germany and the Führer had that distinction. I remember everyone being scared of the secret police, people speaking in whispers. I remember being called a class-alien.

When I was 20, I took part in a huge peaceful demonstration. It seemed the whole city was marching. We wanted free, multi-party elections and did not wish to be occupied any more. They opened fire on us. I remember lying on the pavement, playing dead until the firing abated. Many weren't so lucky.

Our peaceful demonstration turned into open revolt. The Soviet army crushed it with overwhelming force. I was not there to rebuild again. I managed to escape with nothing but the clothes on my back, finding a welcoming refuge in the United States. I became a citizen.

I know war. You could say I was raised by it. I know its civilian victims have faces, names, hopes for the future and loved ones. The least I, a fortunate survivor, can do is to stand in solidarity with them on that bridge, holding my sign: No War! Not In My Name! Know, Brian, that if this country, town, children or homes were threatened by war or other violence, I would stand for it, too, on some bridge, calling attention to the injustice of it all.

Our government insists on the need to remove Saddam and eliminate his weapons. What about that? Brian, wars always come with an official story. Do governments always lie? No. But when they tell you that if you don't believe what they say you are “unpatriotic,” or that you “aid and abet the enemy,” that's a giveaway. Think back to the last time you felt the need to fib: the need to lie always comes with the need to make others believe it. Truth and justice, on the other hand, require no coercion.

Join me some Sunday afternoon between 4 and 5, in the middle of the Damariscotta River Bridge.

Paul Kando

Bristol, Maine


We All Have Family in Iraq

The Dominican Order is an 800-year-old family with members in 102 countries, including Iraq. At least three delegations of US Dominicans have visited their Iraqi sisters and brothers since the 1991 Gulf War.

In October 2002, elected leaders of the Dominicans in the US gathered for their annual meeting in Adrian, Michigan. We agreed to create and distribute buttons and bumper stickers that announce, “I have family in Iraq.” We recognize that “family” has meaning at several levels: Dominican, Catholic, Christian, people of faith, and human.

More than 7,000 buttons and 4,000 bumper stickers have been distributed to date. We encourage others to create their own versions of such buttons and bumper stickers. We all have family in Iraq.

Sister Toni Harris

Prioress of the Congregation

Sinsinawa Dominicans

Sinsinawa, WI


Peace Is Possible

It has been less than two months since a small group of individuals founded the Port Townsend Peace Movement, and already we have eight highly successful events under our belts.

Port Townsend, Washington, is a lovely old Victorian town of 8,500 souls, nestled on the cliffs overlooking Puget Sound. We live in paradise, but we also live at Ground Zero, right across the bay from a US Navy munitions facility. Trident submarines and all manner of naval vessels are a regular sight here. As we watch the harbor, we know we're gearing up for war.

While national media prepare the populace to accept war as inevitable, and polls tell us most Americans favor a United States invasion of Iraq, many who live in our small town feel the urge to resist this juggernaut. So a handful of people got together in October and planned a series of local peace actions. With no budget and little lead-time we easily ignited a growing local enthusiasm for peace. Ten percent of our residents participated.

Among the events:

On October 24, Bert Sacks, a Seattle peace activist with Voices in the Wilderness, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Port Townsend Community Center. The next evening, October 25, about 450 residents of all ages attended a candlelight vigil. On Sunday, October 27, over 800 local residents turned out for the Port Townsend Peace Portrait. The photo, published in the local paper, is accompanied by nearly 900 names of our local residents who signed the Not in Our Name Pledge of Resistance. We are aligning ourselves with the spirit of the closing words of the pledge: “Another world is possible and we pledge to make it real.”

On Friday night we held a Port Townsend Peace Portrait Postcard Party. How beautiful and colorful the peace portrait cards were! Hundreds of people came to address cards to friends, relatives, elected representative, and news media. It was inspiring to see people sitting quietly, at the long tables set up in the local Unitarian Church, writing their messages of peace. Later in the evening there was music by local musicians and food by the postcard party committee. It was a festive community party, and we had plenty of time to connect with our friends and neighbors.

As America's political leaders push the world toward war, Port Townsend residents will be gaining skills in leadership, education, and nonviolent conflict resolution, while continuing to broaden and deepen our peace commitment to each other and our fellow residents of planet Earth. We hope our experience can serve as a model for other peace-minded Americans who live in small towns across the country.

Rima Phillips

Port Townsend, Washington



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