A need for peace

Martha's Vineyard Peace Council
Martha's Vineyard Peace Council
Members of the M.V. Peace Council and others take a stand along "Peace Corners," Five Corners in Vineyard Haven.

By Eleni Collins - March 29, 2007

Joanne Horgan and Jean Hay left the Island on Friday, March 16, at noon, headed for the peace rally in Washington, D.C., the next day. Twenty hours later, with no sleep, the two were on the 7 am train from New York back to Providence, thwarted by the late-season snow storm.

As members of the Martha's Vineyard Peace Council, the two women planned on making the trip, along with several other Islanders, that weekend to rally for peace and to bring the troops home from Iraq.

You have probably seen members of the council at least once while driving through five corners in Vineyard Haven, holding signs stating "Honk for Peace", "End The War" and "Peace Corners." The most recent rally on the Island was on Saturday, March 17, which marked the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq. A dog bore a message for peace, cardboard doves were held high, and several people used drums, cymbals, and a street sign to make noise for justice.

As President Bush recently asked for patience for his Iraq war plan, and the House of Representatives strives to bring an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq by August 2008, the Martha's Vineyard Peace Council is doing what they can to push for peace.

"We think of peace not just as an absence of war, but as a positive thing. We fear there is no real peace apart from justice," says Reverend Alden Besse, co-chairman of the council. "The white plantation owner in the South said everything was peaceful there on the plantation. That was because as soon as a slave stepped out of line, they got a whipping. It wasn't peace in every person's heart, it was peace in oppression. So, we seek a peace rather in justice than oppression."

Bob Kimberly and Steve Levine
Bob Kimberly, left, and Steve Levine drum up support for peace.

Mr. Besse has been a part of the peace council for over 16 years, after moving to the Island in 1990. The council began in the late 1960s as part of a reaction to the Vietnam War. One of the earliest members was Ken Smith, who recently passed away.

During Mr. Besse's first several years with the council, the group worked to get the Navy to cease bombing tests on Nomans Land. "We'd send people out on flotillas to go have a picnic on the beach," recalls Mr. Besse. The Navy stopped the bombing in 1996, and the island was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 to be used as a wildlife refuge.

Currently, with the U.S. at war with Iraq, members of the council have concerns with the administration's course of action, the lives of the soldiers, and the future of our nation.

"I'd say that what we've done so far has proven to be, well, less than ineffective, it's been damaging," says Chris Fried, council member. "I believe for a variety of reasons we are less secure now because of the Iraq invasion."

According to the most recent ABC News and media partner's poll conducted with face-to-face interviews in Iraq, Mr. Fried's concerns are valid. Presently, 18 percent of 2,212 Iraqis interviewed have confidence in U.S. troops. And, 51 percent believe violence against U.S. troops is permissible, whereas 17 percent believed that in 2004.

However, Mr. Fried doesn't think the U.S. should leave Iraq to help itself. "The United Nations should lead the rebuilding, and the peace-keeping efforts. It shouldn't be the United States. It should be a multi-national program so that all nations would feel as if they had say, and that their say is respected."

As for their stance on the war, council members support the troops fully, but would like to see them safe. "I support the troops, but I don't support the war. That is a clear distinction that should be made, because no one wants to be killed. I am against any type of killing and want to bring the troops home," says Tom Dresser, a peace activist who is part of several groups such as moveon.org, and the Cape Codders for peace and justice.

Matilda, Chris Fried's dog
War isn't working for Matilda, Chris Fried's dog.

"I certainly think the troops should be supported, and of course, there are many, many ways to support," Mr. Fried says. "I think the most essential form of support is to remove them from harm's way."

So far, at least 3,200 members of the U.S. military and approximately 54,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives in this war. By participating in rallies on the Island and in Boston, New York, and Washington, the peace council joins hundreds of thousands of other peace activists who want the troops home.

On March 17, approximately 1,100 rallies were held across the country, the biggest being in Washington, D.C. There were approximately 20 people at the Island's rally, and an infinite number of supporting honks from cars as they passed.

With more news being reported concerning hopes of decreased involvement in Iraq, and next year's presidential election, Mr. Fried is hopeful yet cautious about our country's future. "I wish we could have found a way to be successful in our Iraq campaign, but as more and more people are saying every day, military intervention is not the way to solve this problem.

"I think we need to bring our troops home as quickly as possible, and participate in strategies for establishing international peace within Iraq."