Admittedly, we were a sad looking group, silent, garbed in black and waving homemade signs pleading for peace. For a year, we stood hoping to prevent more war—but in vain—as our country invaded Iraq. Then Fourth Street became a “no man’s land” as an opposition group across the street began a vigorous counter protest FOR war. Flags unfurled, banners waved and signs hung on ropes. Marching music kept rhythm to blasts of honking horns.
We were here first! Here being the lawn corner in front of the parking structure at Gavilan College. We staked our territory a whole year before the bombs turned Baghdad night air into giant fireworks and ignited terror in a sleeping population of five million innocents. Between April 2002 and March 2003 we were there on the corner because of the Israel and Palestine conflict. Palestinian and Israeli women had joined and comforted each other in mutual endless grief and sorrow. These courageous women marched their black shadows to street corners silently protesting the unending bloodshed leading to death for their husbands and sons. Women worldwide joined the universal plight which even spread to women in Gilroy and then to us in Hollister.
Our corner occupation began as Women in Black. We wanted to break the cycle of unending violence dramatized in Israel. When men joined our weekly protests, we became People in Black, the color black because wars end in death, the opposite of life-giving peace like John Lennon sang, “Give Peace a Chance.”
I naively believed we could change minds and halt the build-up to invade Iraq. Change came all right. A blossoming of American flags, multiple signs, marching music, and patriotic anthems blasted us from across Fourth Street. Four-wheel pickups circled the block with loud speakers demanding that we “go home” and “back to where you came from.” Some exhortations and body gestures were not so polite.
Our opposition group–much like enemies–took positions. Signs were our weapons. They hung more signs; we displayed our handmade originals. They had uniforms of red, white, and blue clothing; we wore black. They played loud music; we were silent.
Worse, their signs urged, “Support the President and “Support the Troops.” By default we became unpatriotic. They proclaimed, “It’s a War, Infidel!” And “Shame on You People in Black.” Now we became un-American. One of our group challenged with “We are no better.” Well, this brought a patriot across the street with his banner billowing. He exchanged words with one of our sign bearers. Quickly shouts became blows and wrestling. Non-violence is difficult but we learned its value.
Matters did not improve. The Iraqi war didn’t either. Our sign offense continued with “War is Terrorism” and “Collateral Damage” accompanied by a photo of a bloodied child wailing over a dead mother. “Refuse to be an enemy” was our next volley, a way to say that hatred creates enemies while in contrast, as Jesus said, “love your enemies” and much later, Lincoln, “The best way to eliminate enemies is to turn them into friends.”
As time would have its way, we jettisoned black and dressed in variations of red, white and blue. Wanting some respite, we moved to new territory. The wide expanse of thoroughfares fronting the Safeway store proved just right for us. Here we have no overt opposition, rather approvals with horn honking, thumbs up, V signals, smiling faces, and shouts of thank you. Hand signals of the middle finger seldom occur, although they have not entirely disappeared.
Is the battle won? Yes, we have become friends with our opposition group even though we still disagree. Mutually, we decided to co-exist in peace. When the push to bomb Iran made headlines, our signs blossomed, “One F-22 Jet = 28 schools for 12,000 kids,” “Another vet for peace,” “Why is our biggest embassy in Bagdad?”, and “How does a nuclear bomb make peace?” We pleaded peace when our country was ready to bomb Syria. Groups like ours exhaled in relief with the decision not to bomb.
We hope our country with its war economy halts its surge toward perpetual war. We have a Department of Defense but need a Department of Peace. Imagine John Kerry saying, with no preconditions, “Let’s sit down and talk. All sides have a point; let’s talk about it.” Imagine recruiting our young into the Peace Corps instead of the military. Imagine dismantling our nuclear weapons. Imagine behaving like a good neighbor. Imagine another Marshall Plan to relieve hunger and poverty in the world. Imagine the friends we would make. Imagine, just like John Lennon’s popular hit, “Imagine.”
The Hollister Peace Vigil is celebrating 12 years of weekly one-hour corner vigils for peace. The first two Fridays of the month we gather at Fourth and San Benito Streets. The last two Fridays of the month we gather in front of Safeway at the confluence of Tres Pinos (Nash), Sunnyslope, and Highway 25 or Pinnacle National Park Highway (Airline). Our winter schedule is 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. When the clocks spring ahead, we gather at 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. All are welcome. We have no meetings. We are a group of like-minded individuals committed to Peace.