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Standing up for PEACE

Peace group maintains a weekly vigil every Saturday afternoon at a Lake Oswego intersection
by: Cori Bolger, 
Group members including Robert Pike, Natalia Garibian, Lyle Tucker, Susan Perry and Linda Greybeal hold signs for peace one recent Saturday afternoon.

John Lennon knew people might think the notion of 'all the people living life in peace' was a bit of a stretch.

The legendary Beatle even acknowleged he may have been a dreamer to imagine such a thing - but he's not the only one.

Each Saturday at the intersection of Lower Boones Ferry Road and Kruse Way, a group of local residents come together to stand for peace.

They are veterans, businessmen, doctors, military chaplains, teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents - from various backgrounds.

They arrive regularly at noon, rain or shine, and often bring their children and dogs for the hour-long vigil.

'My philosophy is that people should stand for peace in their own neighborhood,' said Mike Higgins, a theology teacher at Jesuit High School who started standing alone at the spot one year ago.

Higgins notes that 'as of March 18 we will be in Iraq five full years and have spent over $500 billion.'

Higgins was inspired by the larger peace rallies held in Portland in response to the anniversary of the war in Iraq and the troop surge.

'Many teachers or adults want to instill good life-long habits in kids or give some part of themselves to the community,' he said. 'I like to say that this is just my thing; my way of giving.'

As the months went by, dozens of others joined him, either after spotting him or finding the group listed on the Internet.

There are dozens of such 'meet-up' groups across the Portland area who gather regularly to promote peace.

'I drove by (Higgins) and thought, 'There's someone who walks their talk. Maybe I should be doing that,'' said Doris Wirtz, a Lake Oswego High School English teacher who's now a regular.

She believes the idea of peace is not as far-fetched as one might think - the key is to start at the grassroots level.

'There will always be conflict and violence in the world, but we don't have to be the ones to instigate it,' Wirtz said. 'Why can't (Americans) be the peacemakers of the world?'

Their common purpose is not soley political; it's more about social justice. There are no signs telling drivers and pedestrians who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election or suggesting the impeachment of President Bush or Vice President Cheney.

Instead, the men and women hoist homemade signs that read 'Mothers for Peace,' 'Give Peace a Chance' and 'Honk for Peace.'

'A peaceful world and stability is going to have to come ... through mutual respect, listening and dialogue,' Higgins added. 'There's a saying that 'Hope dies last.' You'd think every little bit would help.'

Reactions are typically positive. On a recent Saturday afternoon, passing drivers gave a beep, smile or wave. Cyclists and joggers responded with a thumbs-up or peace sign.

'It's a great day for peace!' one woman exclaimed.

Group members believe the positive response is a direct result of the current social, economic and political climate, the upcoming election as well as Bush's poor approval rating.

'Every honk is a prayer,' Higgins said, holding up his sign as cars streamed across the intersection. 'They show that this has some value to it.'

But on occasion, they've seen drivers give them the middle finger, moon them or, once, throw eggs in their direction.

The Lake Oswego High School student who threw the eggs in January was arrested for second-degree disorderly conduct by a policeman who witnessed the incident from an unmarked car.

According to the police report, the group members were 'conducting themselves politely,' although the teen said they had 'flipped him off' and said he was also exercising his freedom of speech.

Group members believe it presents a teachable moment for the classroom, or for the student, who they believe should apologize in person.

'This could act as a point of discussion at schools about war, tolerance and freedom of speech,' said group member Rebecca McGregor, a Lake Oswego resident.

Once, a woman making the turn onto Lower Boones Ferry slowed down close to the curb. Group members were startled and didn't know what to expect, but the woman rolled down her window and spoke to them with tears in her eyes.

'My son is serving in Iraq and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you're doing,' she said.

The group members were deeply touched by her words, they said.

Linda Graybeal, a retired foreign language teacher and 'Mother for Peace,' said she sobs every time she hears about a young soldier being wounded or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

'I'm standing here for all the mothers and fathers who have children in what I think is a fundamentally un-American, immoral war,' she said. 'I just feel it so heavily that it's so wrong. I have to be here to show it and I want my voice to be heard.'

During their hour vigil, the group members have time to catch up and swap opinions or stories. Of course, many of the group members have their own impassioned views on Bush's time in the White House, America's military presence in the Middle East and the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

So their Saturday peace vigils also involve a lot of conversation about world events and politics. Mainly Democrats, they discuss the pros and cons behind candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, too.

Higgins and Graybeal believe this group would be larger if the war in Iraq was impacting Americans' lives at a greater personal level, like the draft did during the Vietnam War.

'This is a war we all haven't sacrificed for,' he said. 'Day in and day out, as people are out doing their business, they're most likely not thinking about it. We're here to remind them we're still in a war.'

The group hopes to recruit teens and college-age residents to broaden their age range and reach. Everyone is invited to stop by and hold a sign or simply stand for peace.

'This is a good corner,' Higgins said, referring to the location. 'The cops have been good to us, too, and they come by quite a bit. They don't mind us being here.'

Higgins said the group plans to stay in that spot indefinitely, or for as long as peace is out of reach.

'We recognized that as long as Bush is in office there won't be any change, so we could forecast that we would be here for at least a year,' he said. 'If you do a little bit, it's better than nothing. We're actively engaged in promoting the common good.'

For more information on how to get involved with the Lake Oswego peace group, e-mail lo-peacehotmail.com.

Former Review Education reporter Cori Bolger is now living in her hometown of Martinsburg, Pa. This is the final story she wrote before departing.