Islanders Brave Cold to Share Concern at Prospect of U.S. War in Middle East

By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL

On one of the coldest days of the year, more than 170 people gathered at Five Corners for a peaceful noontime rally expressing their concern at the prospect of an American war with Iraq.

"We don't know where this war will take us," said Tony Nevin of Vineyard Haven, taking his turn Saturday at the microphone in front of the E&E Deli. Mr. Nevin and many others spoke about their personal worries for the future if the war takes place. Mr. Nevin recalled the Cuban missile crisis and how destabilizing it was to the future of peace.

The Rev. Alden Besse, chairman of the Vineyard Peace Council, spoke of his concerns about the dangerous route war takes once it is begun.

Many people in the quiet audience carried antiwar slogan posters. Jean Andrews of Edgartown held a poster that read, "Wage Peace Not War."

Another poster quoted the Bible: "Blessed are the peace makers."

Julie Hitchings of West Tisbury spoke of her patriotic spirit supporting the nation's military. "I support the military when I think they are doing the right thing," she said. But she said she was opposed to the United States initiating a war with Iraq.

Bryan Daniels of Edgartown spoke into the microphone, his breath visible in the cold. He accused the Republican party of using the war as part of a smokescreen to cover a domestic agenda which will hurt the country's poor and the environment.

One after another, people from a variety of walks of life stood up and voiced their concerns.

Chris Fried, a member of the peace council and organizer of the rally, stood nearby and watched. Mr. Fried said he was gratified to see the expression of concern by those in attendance. He said after the rally: "I was very pleased by the turnout. Most of the people who showed up came for the full two hours. It was cold. I thought people would come for a few minutes and go, but so many stayed." Mr. Fried, of Vineyard Haven, said he is dedicating most of his time these days to the Vineyard Peace Council and its efforts to raise public awareness about opposition to the war.

While this rally was going on at Five Corners, more than 30 Vineyarders were in Washington, D.C., participating in the national rally with more than 400,000 other participants. Many had taken a bus from Woods Hole, while others went by car.

Mr. Besse said later: "I find the response both here and across the country and world encouraging. People are really facing the realities of how horrible a war might be and how uncertain the result."

Even before Saturdays' rally was over, there was talk among the participants about new steps that might be taken in the days ahead. Speakers offered the audience a number of web sites on the Internet offering informatio, and invited participation in meetings of the Vineyard Peace Council. Mr. Fried said: "People are looking for a nonviolent solution. They are looking for ways to help.

"All of us have a right and responsibility to give direction to our President and other members of government," Mr. Fried said. "It is patriotic. So none of us should be embarrassed or intimidated by speaking out."

On Sunday, almost 30 people attended a meeting of the Vineyard Peace Council at Grace Church. The talk was about the successes of the weekend and a look forward.

Susan Desmarais said after the Sunday meeting that Islanders fasting for peace have a planned observance of their own. A group of men and women plan to fast. Each day, one of a core group of individuals would fast for the day as a gesture of opposition to the war. She said: "We are trying to raise the awareness about the need for nonviolent conflict resolution." She said the participants include a social worker, a librarian and a retired innkeeper. "We have some high school students interested."

The peace council will stage a candlelight vigil at Five Corners this Monday from 5 to 5:30 p.m. Mr. Besse said the event will coincide with United Nations weapons inspectors giving their report on Iraq and its weapon program.

There are already two other events under way that are intended to raise the Island's awareness about the international climate. At Grace Church there is a gathering to pray for peace on Sunday afternoons from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The Oak Bluffs library has organized a series of panel discussions by "peace practitioners" from the Island community. And at the Vineyard Haven library, Jim Norton of Vineyard Haven is leading a discussion on a new book about religious diversity, A New Religious America by Diana Eck. The six-week workshop began on Thursday, Jan. 16, and continues through Feb. 20, meeting at 6 p.m. The workshop is open to everyone. The author asks the question: Can Americans of all faiths and beliefs engage with one another to shape a positive pluralism?

The Rev. Robert Brightman, a retired United Methodist minister from West Tisbury, is conducting a month-long study group on Understanding Islam at the Old Whaling Church. The first session takes place Monday, Feb. 3, from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. The group is sponsored by the Edgartown United Methodist Church with input from the Hebrew Center. For more information on that series, call 508-693-7940.

The Rev. Mr. Besse said of the Island community: "I think there are a great many people, thoughtfully concerned about the future. I have seen a great variety of people, people deeply concerned, people who are taking the time to be carefully informed and not be duped by propaganda."