On March 16 my husband and I went to a peace march in Eureka with our good friends Christine and Dan (who have been very active in the peace movement since the start of the conflict in Iraq) and another friend also named Dan. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The buzz throughout the day was that over 2,000 people had showed up for this rally in support of peace. Different groups were represented, including one I greatly respect, Veterans for Peace. The scene was very joyous and happy—until we got to the courthouse, where people supporting the war were protesting the peace rally.
The scene was surreal. We approached the corner where the war supporters were rallying and shouting, and behind them stood the Women in Black (a group who protest war by wearing black clothing and standing in silent vigil). As we approached this scene everyone in the peace rally grew silent as well. One by one people held their hands out toward the angry group, fingers outstretched in the peace sign. As our turn came to walk by, I moved toward the angry group to get a closer look at what was happening. All the shouting and the sight of the Women in Black behind the angry protesters made me very emotional and I walked on with tears streaming down my face.
Christine immediately recognized our good friend Carl, who is also a devoted Quaker and one of the most passionate, intelligent people I have ever met. Carl was standing in the background, behind the Women in Black. Christine leaned over and whispered, "Do you think they are all right?" Just the thought of our good friend being in any type of danger put me over the top. Christine and Dan asked me if I wanted to step out of the march for a minute. I said yes and the five of us moved out, just past the angry group. We stood on the sidewalk holding our hands out in peace.
One extremely irate man was shouting into the crowd about how ignorant all of us were. When he saw our small group standing there, he came over to us and began shouting. Jim stepped forward with his hand out, making the peace sign, and the man yelled at him, saying, "Don’t get in my face!"
Jim replied, "You got in my face, sir."
The man shouted back, "You don’t know anything about what is going on! I was in the Gulf War and I saw things you can’t even imagine!" He went on to describe (in great detail, which I will refrain from sharing) how he watched his best friend die. He said that he had to do whatever his commander in chief told him to do. He said he had three teenage boys and that he had to go over there and get the job done so they wouldn’t have to go over.
I was extremely distraught about all he was saying. With tears rolling down my face, I felt myself, as if in a dream, walk up to this man as he was shouting and yelling at us, and put my arms around him (thinking he might very well shove me away). Much to my surprise, he wrapped his arms around me and hugged me back fiercely. I said to him, "I am so sorry that you had to go through that. No one should have to see and experience what you did. Please understand that we are not protesting the troops going over there. We are protesting about what our government is doing. We support you and everyone else who has to go there. We just want everyone to come home. We don’t want this war to happen in the first place. We believe that you are all victims in this." Much to my amazement, he became calm.
As we let go of our embrace Christine put her hand out to the man and said, "My name is Christine, it’s very nice to meet you." The man replied, "My name is Todd, it’s nice to meet you, too." Then the two Dans, Jim, and I all introduced ourselves as well. Dan and Christine discussed democracy and similar things with Todd. Sometimes they all agreed on what was being said, and sometimes they didn’t—but agreeing didn’t matter. We all talked civilly, the communication lines were open.
In the end, as we said our goodbyes, Christine said, "We aren’t here to argue with you, we are only here to tell you that we support you, we just don’t support this war." He smiled and said it was good to know that there were people in this march who felt that way. I hugged him goodbye and Christine did, too. As we walked away, talking about how real those hugs were, I was moved in ways I have never experienced before. The tears never stopped flowing throughout the day, but there was a warmth, hope, and peace in my heart that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
The truth is that no matter how strongly anyone feels, it is most important to realize that there are others who feel just as strongly in opposite ways. Everyone deserves a chance to be heard, and everyone needs to feel acknowledged.
It became ever clear to me in my embrace with Todd that only when the dialogue begins can we begin to move toward peace.