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Starting Point

Standing on the street corner


I like to demonstrate for things I care about, like the possibility of peace with Iraq. Demonstrations are occasions for both body and spirit to witness to the justice of a cause.

A demonstration last fall in Washington and a walk around the White House was one such occasion, a time for community among people of like beliefs. Our bodies felt the exhaustion of long rides to the site, the Vietnam War Memorial, the hours of standing listening to speeches, the long walk in which demonstrators were packed together so closely that walking too fast or slowly could disrupt the flow of marchers.

It was good to feel the changing weather that day. It began with rain, enough to make the site a muddy mess, followed by a bright sun leading marchers to doff heavy coats and rain gear. The artistically made signs were a feast for the eyes. The tableaus along the way, silent except for solemn drumbeats, depicted coffin and pallbearers, the dirge of Iraqi women carrying their dead infants, the chants of college students. All street theater at its best.

Yet for me, the best demonstrations have been at the local level. For six Wednesdays, local citizens opposed to the war with Iraq have gathered from 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. on the sidewalk outside the courthouse in Adrian, Mich. The group is small, usually a dozen or so, mainly women. The signs are low key and respectful: “War is not the answer,” “Consider the children of Iraq,” “Peace is patriotic.”

The response is usually friendly, though sometimes puzzled, like the woman at the stoplight who rolled down her window and asked: “Are we already at war?” More often people respond by blowing car horns or giving a V-for-peace sign.

As the cars whiz by our corner, they all seem alike, as though the drivers were going around the block to get a second look at us. In most cases, opponents are courteous but they tend to look straight ahead trying to ignore us. A few drivers disturb the peacefulness of the afternoon with rude comments like, “What about Saddam Hussein, you wimps!” and “Go home!”

I like being on that street corner. It’s a place to observe the changing seasons, from short-sleeve weather to warm jacket time. As I hold my sign and turn first to the left and then to the right so drivers can read the message, I reflect on why I am here and what it means to me. I believe that war does not solve conflicts; it creates new ones. I pray that my country will be delivered from the guilt and grief of a war that will only add to the number of victims already suffering in Iraq and result in the slaughter of our own young men and women.

I take comfort in knowing that my whole being witnesses to the possibility of peace. Rest assured: Next Wednesday will find me standing on that same street corner.

Dominican Sr. Lois Spears lives and writes at her motherhouse in Adrian, Mich. Her book God Is With You: Prayers for Men in Prison was published this year by St. Anthony Messenger Press.

National Catholic Reporter, January 24, 2003