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A march for peace in the shadow of war


Fri, Mar 21st, 2003
Posted in Features

Spring Valley native Jon Meier, right, was joined by his mother in leading a walk for peace in Spring Valley on March 15. Meier walked more than 1000 miles from Ames, Iowa to Washington, D.C.in December and January to protest the war against Iraq. Photo by Carol Thouin

Editor’s note: At the time that this article was written, America was not yet at war with Iraq. Nonetheless, the author clearly points out the many emotions that people in America feel about going to war.

The fact that differences of opinion can be expressed in our free and democratic society honors the many men and women who have served honorably in our military to protect these freedoms.

Most religious groups are opposed to the morality of this war. And yet, polls indicate that approximately 65% of all Americans support President Bush’s action to invade Iraq. Caught in the middle of a desire for peaceful solutions and an apparent need to militarily remove Saddam Hussein from power are those Americans serving in our Armed Services.

Veterans, and relatives of those serving in the military, rightly point out the need to support our troops as they go into harms way and to treat them with the respect they deserve when they return home.

March 15 was, by all accounts, one of the nicest early spring days enjoyed so far by Fillmore County residents. But, it wasn't the fair weather that brought out nearly 30 members of Rural Peacemakers, a grassroots alliance dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflict and a government that serves the interest of the people. It was the group's burning desire to protest what they believe is an illegal, immoral and unjust war against Iraq.

C.J. Robinson and Lynn Farmer of Rushford helped form the group just a few short weeks ago in an attempt to give people living in rural areas a forum to voice their opinion about war with Iraq.

"Initially it was a way to have our voices heard," said Robinson, who along with his wife built a phone tree of recruits. "We couldn't all participate in the march in Washington on January 18, but we could participate here."

According to Robinson, most comments received from passersby are positive. "We're getting lots of honking horns, thumbs up and waves today," he said. The group, whose membership spans the county, already has received international attention.

"A picture taken at one of our rallies in Preston was carried on the front page of a newspaper in Indonesia," said Robert Johnson, a member from Harmony. A web page (www.ruralpeacemakers. org) with links to news articles, a rally schedule and inspirational quotes on peace galvanize members in their cause.

The March 15 rally was led by Spring Valley resident Jon Meier, a 20-year-old religious studies major at Iowa State University. Meier received local attention in December when he embarked on a 1,050-mile journey, on foot, to Washington, D.C. Meier describes a sort of divine intervention that prompted him to join thousands in the nation's capital to protest war. "Listening to my heart was the only way I knew of to bring about peace," said Meier, who lives by the adage, 'be the highest self you can be.' "I think there is an inner voice in everyone -- whether God or intuition -- telling us that we can make a difference by being the people we were meant to be and need to be." His approach to protesting war is more spiritual than political. "Love brings about peace," he said.

Others who joined the march had more politically motivated messages on their minds.

"I showed up when I read an article in the paper about Rural Peacemakers," said Spring Valley resident Deb Staley. "This shows that small-town people of this country also oppose war," she said.

Greg Rendahl, of Ostrander, joined the march with an armful of protest signs in an effort to stop the impending war.

"I wouldn't say it's inevitable, but it doesn't look good," he said. "Our President links Saddam Hussein to 9-11 -- that's a crime against the memory of those who were killed that day. There is absolutely no link between the two."

For Johnson, the peace rally in Spring Valley had a more personal meaning. After losing a brother in World War II, Johnson said he's been opposed to war. "We support the troops -- by bringing them all back home," he said.

Behind the hardware store in downtown Spring Valley, a group of men working on their motorcycles noticed the marchers passing by.

"Everyone has a right to their opinion," said 31-year-old Jamie Beisell. "I have mixed feelings about President Bush…but at least he's doing something."

Veterans of Foreign Wars State Commander Steve O'Connor served as a Registered Nurse during the Viet Nam War. "It's important to remember that veterans served so that people could express their opinions," he said, when asked about the peace march. "My concern is with the young men and women in uniform today….we must not forget them.”

"They have to follow the orders of their Commander in Chief -- and we have to respect them for that -- especially when they come home. We can't have a reoccurrence of what happened with veterans of the Viet Nam War," he added.

Kay McCloud, who works in Spring Valley, echoes those sentiments. McCloud's 21-year old son, Christopher Miles, is currently serving in the U.S. Navy and is stationed on the USS Arleigh Burke, a cruise missile destroyer. Ironically, Miles was scheduled to be inducted into boot camp on September 11, 2001. With all flights cancelled because of the terrorism in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, Miles deployment was delayed.

"Of course I don’t want him to be there…but I also don't want him to be disrespected when he comes back as a veteran," McCloud said. Although news from her son is infrequent and sketchy, McCloud thinks of her son every day. "I support him, I’m proud of him and I can't wait to see him again," she said.

In a parked car in downtown Spring Valley a 16-year-old high school student watched the peace rally as it passed by. "Most people my age really don't care much about what's going on," he said.

The apathy toward world politics is not necessarily typical of high school students, according to Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive, a 93-year-old publication, which stands for peace and social justice. Rothschild drove from Madison, Wisc. to join the march in Spring Valley and to address the peacemakers group at a luncheon following the rally.

"People here today have tremendous courage and are true patriots," he told the multi-generational group. "What I see today is an amazing, spontaneous outpouring of support," he said.

Rothschild told the group that protests in small towns like Spring Valley are more important than in larger communities where participants are just part of an anonymous crowd. "It takes a real boldness to pick up a sign and tell our neighbors and friends and co-workers that you feel so strongly that you're willing to do something unusual that could bring curses," he said.

In his remarks to the peacemakers group, Rothschild warned that war against Iraq is illegal, unjust and immoral. "Only Congress has the power to declare war," he said. He added that the war also goes against the United Nations Charter. "We have a lawless land right now with Bush not seeing that laws are faithfully executed," he added. "War with Iraq isn't going to kill just one evil man," Rothschild stated. Rothschild told the group that he believes war will not make us safer, but will actually put the United States at more risk of terrorism. A war is also unjust, according to Rothschild, because there is no credible evidence linking the incidences on 9-11 to Saddam Hussein.

"For months now, President Bush has been trying to glue the beard of Osama bin Laden onto the chin of Saddam Hussein…and the beard won't stick," he said. "Saddam Hussein is not an imminent or growing threat."

Rothschild congratulated the Rural Peacemakers for taking a stand. "All I try to do is inspire people to keep going and to provide the best arguments I can against this war," he said.

With what's being referred to as "Operation Iraqi Freedom" currently underway, Fillmore County peacemakers have not laid down their banners of protest. They plan to continue creating opportunities for their rural voices to be heard.

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