FARMINGTON — Every Friday afternoon a group of people gather outside the front steps of the Farmington post office for half an hour to hold a peace vigil despite the climate, political or weather-related.
Some are more vocal like John Rosenwald who eagerly greets those who pass by and offers a small piece of paper explaining the motley crew.
“There are alternatives to war for the world’s problems,” Rosenwald said in the cold winter sun. “It’s a reminder that there are alternatives.”
The group consists of Quakers, Veterans for Peace, Women in Black and individuals with no group association whatsoever who merely wish to stand for peace as a realistic approach for addressing global discord.
The literature that Rosenwald hands out states that the gathering “began in late January 2002, in response to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The first impulse to organize a weekly public demonstration came from supporters of Women in Black, an international movement dedicated to protesting war, rape as a tool of war, ethnic cleansing, and human rights abuses all over the world.”
Those associated with Women in Black often protest in silence, attending weekly vigils wearing all black as the network’s website explains, “wearing black in some cultures signifies mourning, and feminist actions dressed in black convert women’s traditional passive mourning for the dead in war into a powerful refusal of the logic of war.”
The relatively quiet and small gathering in Farmington which has been averaging about five to ten people during the pandemic, receives mixed reactions from supportive car honking to middle fingers flaring out of vehicle windows to ‘all lives matter’ calls in response to Black Lives Matter signs.
“The need to stand for peace never goes away,” retired University of Maine at Farmington Professor Cathy Wimett said while standing at the base of the post office.
Another weekly peace vigil participant attributes her association with the group based on her Christian beliefs.
“I believe in the cause of resisting war,” Craigen Healey, who has been at the Farmington peace vigils for the past eleven years, said.
“I just believe people often misinterpret our stance here against veterans,” Healey said. “We stand to do what we can to live peacefully…it’s a lifelong process.”
Vietnam Veteran Tom Ryan holds a long pole with a flag waving over the edge of the sidewalk inscribed with ‘Veterans for Peace.’ His presence is more than a stance against war, it is a stance against what he sees as interrelated issues, systemic racism, abuse in prisons, the mass incarceration of people of color, to name a few.
“We incarcerate people in industrial worlds, people of color and the abuse that goes on in prisons is beyond my comprehension…in the meantime, life goes on for everybody,” Ryan said.
The flag that Ryan holds is a symbol of the Veterans for Peace group that was founded in Farmington at the Old South Church in the mid-80s. The grassroots gathering of veterans committed to the aspiration of abolishing war and doing so nonviolently grew into an international group now with 130 chapters.
“We’ve sent delegations to the former Soviet Union, we send delegations to Central America to witness elections and various things like that. We have NGO (non-governmental organization) status at the United Nations, we have a representative who goes there and we have our conventions every year,” President of Maine’s 001 founding chapter Doug Rawlings said in a phone interview.
Veterans for Peace is an inclusive group and does not require members to be veterans, Rawlings said. Each chapter focuses on both global and region-specific issues. Chapters have advocated for U.S. veterans who were deported to Mexico for minor charges to working alongside Moms Demand Action for gun safety legislation.
As Ryan held his flag in the late-February winter he said that the various problems he sees in society are all connected and stem from the mentality of war as an option to liberate people.
“It’s all tied together,” Ryan said. “When we spend the money on war, it deprives us of money to spend on schools…Nobody wins in a war, the boys from Maine get killed, taxpayers lose, they pay for it.”
The Peace Vigil in Farmington takes place every Friday from 12-12:30 p.m. in front of the Farmington Post Office on Maine Street. Anyone is invited to join and people are encouraged to stop and engage in conversation with participants.