Peace Rally Draws Hundreds to Tisbury to Urge Reasonable Response to Terror

By ALEXIS TONTI

A diverse collection of Vineyard residents, including ministers, mothers and small business owners, came together at a rally on Tuesday in Vineyard Haven to call for a peaceful resolution to last week's terrorist attack in New York city and Washington, D.C.

They urged thought before action, and warned against decisions fueled by emotion rather than rational deliberation.

"Anger can be like a mighty, rushing flood that destroys or channeled like a stream. Let it be redeemed and well-used and channeled in creative ways," said the Rev. Alden Besse.

About 200 people attended the rally at Five Corners, sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Peace Council. They lit candles, signed petitions and introduced directives. They carried signs and American flags, holding them high for passersby to see. The common message was peace:

"An eye for an eye results in many blind people.

"A violent response will not bring peace.

"Let us not become the evil we deplore."

Before the rally, organizer Chris Fried explained the goals. "We want to improve communication so we can share emotions and reach a sensible, peaceful conclusion," he said.

They chose Tuesday because it marked the one-week anniversary of the terrorist attack. The rally was held near the Vineyard Haven post office because it is a government building.

"We want to send a message to our public servants so they know how we feel and what steps they should take, steps that are the most peaceful and the least damaging to us and to other countries," Mr. Fried said.

Shortly before 5 p.m., a man driving through was angered by the rally and its message. He pulled to the side of the road and got out of his car. He then strode into the middle of Five Corners, yelling, "These people are calling for peace. Is this what you do when a murderer comes to your door? I am an American and proud of it."

The man left without incident, though later he returned with a large sign spray-painted with the word War. He held it throughout the rally but remained calm and unintrusive.

As the rally began, everyone moved into the area in front of the E&E Deli at Five Corners. Invited speakers addressed the crowd for half an hour, after which the microphone was turned over to anyone who wanted to share ideas and feelings.

Mr. Fried presented the peace council's directive to President Bush, which he invited everyone to sign. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the council is asking the government to move in ways that are legally correct, with understanding and compassion for all people involved, and in ways that use the least force. They do not favor emotional, excessively forceful responses.

The Rev. Judith Campbell of the Unitarian Universalist Society said: "Terrorism is as despicable a form of evil as I can imagine and we are united in the imperative to see it ended . . . . but ended not by any means possible but in such a way that it does not breed even more violence and more terrorism."

The Rev. Mr. Besse said: "We must seek the painful process of understanding. People get angry because they don't understand. There's the saying you should never judge a person till you have walked a mile in their moccasins."

He pointed to the oppressive and unjust conditions in other countries that most Americans have not experienced. He urged people to remember these differences - to consider how they shape lives - and to have compassion for those who are different, a remark which drew applause from the crowd.

Afterward, a steady stream of people took the microphone.

"Just because we feel angry and frustrated does not mean we have to stoop to their level. When you drop a nuclear bomb, it doesn't just stay where you drop it," Beth McElhiney cautioned.

"I'm not here to criticize anyone else. I'm here to criticize myself and to talk about what we can do," said Barth Jarek. He offered a petition about introducing conflict resolutions and peace studies courses in the high school. "So kids can grow up, learn to talk about problems and learn from history," he said.

The Rev. Ken Smith, minister emeritus of Unitarian Universalist, stepped forward. "We need a more realistic fear of what we're getting into," he said. "This could be another Vietnam. Wars have an easy way of starting. They start small - but they develop and create tremendous suffering and pain, tremendous numbers of refugees, hunger, cruelties of all sorts.

"It's not too late to put a stop to the madness and to get the government to work. Something has produced terrorists. Until we find out more about that - even if we kill some - there will always be more."

Island resident Tim Johnson invoked the names of Rosa Parks, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as role models and heroes of peace. "Think of the power and changes that came from their personal actions," he said. "We always have the power of our own actions, we always have that power to be peaceful."

The rally ended with everyone singing Amazing Grace. Nearly 200 people had signed Mr. Fried's directive. The following day Mr. Fried received a call from Cong. William Delahunt's office expressing support for their endeavors and asking for reports on any future plans.

A meeting of the Martha's Vineyard Peace Council is planned for Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at Grace Church to discuss the terrorist attack and to develop peaceful responses. All are welcome. For information, call 508-693-3930.