Witness at State and Main

On February 15, 2003, a month before the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, over 400 protesters quietly gathered with lighted candles at the intersection of State and Main streets in Doylestown, Pa. The vigil was part of the worldwide demonstrations initiated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others.

For members of Doylestown Meeting and many others, this memorable event was an extension of weekly Tuesday evening vigils that began in early October 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. We are in our third year of continuous weekly vigils. The posters, all approved by the Peace Committee of the meeting, have varied from Vigil for Peace, War is Not the Answer, No More Victims, Pray for Peace, and Abolish Nuclear Weapons, to Seek Social Justice Nonviolently. From the outset there has been excellent reporting, with photographs, in the local newspaper.

For 14 months the sidewalk vigil was located at a major intersection close to Bucks County Courthouse. The location was also right in front of a memorial for Vietnam veterans. In January 2003 the vigil participants were confronted by an angry group of veterans and Blue Star Mothers, demanding that we move at once to another location. We stood our ground despite the threats. Alerted by the veterans themselves, newspaper reporters and photographers were out in force. The next day the story was on the front page of Philadelphia and local newspapers.

At the suggestion of the Doylestown chief of police, and out of respect for the feelings of the veterans, the Peace Committee decided to move to what proved to be a more central and better-lighted location, State and Main streets.

A regular participant soon begins to note the details of the immediate surroundings. Historic buildings surround the intersection: the Lenape Building dating from 1874, a three-story brick building with Roman arches above the windows, six chimneys, and a clock that has remained at 5:50 for as long as anyone can remember; the historic four-story Fountain House, a Doylestown landmark built on the site where William Doyle established a tavern in 1745; a rather plain structure built in 1849 with green trim and subdued stucco; and an oriental rug store on another corner. Half a block down East State Street is the popular County Theater showing art house, independent, and first-run films.

A sycamore and a locust tree grace two narrow sidewalks. Victorian street lamps have hanging baskets with flowers and decorations. Dominating the Fountain House is a Starbucks coffee shop on the ground floor. Its wraparound porch is a favorite hangout for teens. They are more interested in themselves than the peace vigil, although on one occasion one teen borrowed a sign to plant among her peers.

An estimated 1,000 persons, pedestrians, and vehicle occupants pass during the 6-7 p.m. vigil hour. You can almost set your watch by the arrival of the Federal Express truck. The bus from Philadelphia comes through once during the hour, as does the same bus going south. There are always runners with reflective vests coming through on State Street (one-way going west). There are young children in strollers and toddlers with a mother or father. Quite a number of persons walk with a dog. I particularly enjoy the toylike jet black Scottie, with a plaid jacket during the winter, very low to the sidewalk. Some pedestrians stop by at the literature table, others question a participant. Still others stop for an extended discussion.

During the hour there are repeated indications of approval: a thumbs-up or a honk of the horn. At least once during the hour some young men in a passing car state, with expletives, their differing opinion. Difficult to determine are the feelings of motorcyclists who gun their motors going up the Main Street hill.

Clearly, Doylestown Meeting has established a peace presence in town. Overheard was the laudatory comment of a Doylestown resident who was showing his friend, a visitor, the center of town: "Yes, and we even have protesters." But even more memorable for me is the man who rushed up to me one evening and asked frantically, "What happened?"