This is a summary article to bring together various bits and pieces regarding the Peace Works! in Temecula Valley Night of Remembrance on March 20, 2004.
At our February meeting, the member of Peace Works! decided to hold a Night of Remembrance on March 20, to coincide with both the anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, and a number of other peace protests around the world.
As per our group's mission to educate and be a voice in our community for unity and understanding -- not division and conflict -- we decided that this would be a night of quiet remembrance, not a protest. Our flyer for the event specifically urged "no signs please; this is a vigil, not a protest."
We chose a candlelight vigil to echo our original beginning as a vigil organized by MoveOn.org, and we chose the Duck Pond because it didn't require a permit/reservation -- as we found out when we held our celebration of the International Day of Peace.
Our press release about the Night of Remembrance went out to both of the local newspapers, the Press-Enterprise and the Californian/NC Times.
This led to positive pre-event coverage by both papers. The PE article stressed the subdued approach of our vigil, and they also checked up with the city of Temecula to see what's necessary to use the Duck Pond. Interesting.
The Californian article contrasted our peace vigil with a pro-Bush rally put on by the local Republican organizations -- just as the Californian portrayed our International Day of Peace celebration as a clash between us and the Republicans. In truth, they were a handful of counter-protesters who were just appalled by the idea of a peace celebration -- of all things! -- in Temecula.
Rick Reiss -- a conservative columnist for the Californian who had recently fanned the flames of homophobia by rejecting the notion of "live and let live" co-existence with his gay and lesbian neighbors -- decided to chime in on our upcoming vigil in his Thursday column. Peace Works! members were painted as "anti-American peaceniks" and "misguided appeasers" in a screed urging readers to attend the Republican Assembly's Bush rally, "[i]nstead of just standing by and watching a bunch of radicals trash our nation."
But this kind of bashing in the local paper by a right-wing extremist is par for the course around here, sadly. There's a reason that everyone who joins our group expresses relief at "just finding a place where I can speak my mind and not be attacked."
The day before the vigil, I personally got a phone call from an angry woman who demanded to know why I was coming to "block traffic" in Temecula, saying that I should stay in Lake Elsinore, since that's where I live. I guess she didn't understand that Peace Works! in Temecula Valley covers, um, the Temecula valley -- from Elsinore down to the county line. She also didn't seem to understand that the point of a peaceful candlelight vigil at the far side of a park is not to hold up traffic!
Fortunately, I got other phone calls which were more encouraging, including one from Delores Tiberio-Feicht of the Democratic and Independent Women's Group in Fallbrook, who said a number of their members were planning to attend.
The vigil was led by Rev. Merle Lehman, a retired Methodist minister who is a very valued member of Peace Works!. We started our Night of Remembrance as the sun set -- ignoring the predicably bellicose cluster of Republican Assembly types on the far corner, holding "Peace through military might" signs for honking cars driving past.
After a short introduction, Merle started things off by leading us in singing "Down by the Riverside."
To focus on the human cost of war, Merle read a list of U.S. states and the number of American soldiers from each state who died in war. Liz Mediavilla and Wendy Hammarstrom responded with a bell's toll for each state. We also rang the bells for allied soldiers killed in the war, and the thousands of U.S. troops injured or maimed. 17 bells symbolized the estimated 17,000 Iraqis killed so far during the conflict.
Merle then read a poem by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
As we are together, praying [or meditating] for peace, let us be truly with each other.
Let us pay attention to our breathing.
Let us be relaxed in our bodies and our minds.
Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds.
Let us return to ourselves and be wholly ourselves. Let us maintain a half-smile on our faces.
Let us be aware of the source of being common to us all and to all living things.
Evoking the the presence of the Great Compassion, let us fill our hearts with our own compassion--towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Let us pray that all living beings realize that they are all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same source of life.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each other.
Let us plead with ourselves to live in a way which will not deprive other beings of air, water, food, shelter, or the chance to live.
With humility, with awareness of the existence of life, and of the sufferings which are going on around us, let us pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth. Amen.
A time of silent reflection was open to those who wished to sign the large piece of paper we'd brought with us. Messages include "Let Peace Begin with U.S." and "Let's work towards eternal peace with love for all."
The vigil ended with a candlelight walk around the pond's perimeter, "singing to the ducks" as Merle put it. In fact, one duck seemed quite taken with our group, and it turns out she is a former pet duck who was abandoned -- see the Saga of Dorothy the Peace Duck if you can offer her a home.
Our peaceful assembly was only interrupted once -- by a fellow in a large SUV (of course!) who pulled up close to our singing at the 9/11 statue and leaned on the horn. He shouted at us as well, but most of us just returned peace signs and he soon drove off.
For my immediate reactions after the event, see my initial report. The few pictures I took can be found in my March photo dump.
Ted Pennings -- an active Peace Works! member and a student at Temescal Canyon High School -- told me that after our vigil ended, a number of students from Chaparral High School went to the corner of Ynez and Rancho California, which had since been abandoned by the right-wing counter-protesters. The students held up signs reading "No War / Elect Jesus," "War is Corporate Welfare," and "No Glory in War!"
Peace Works! choose to not take the signs-and-streetcorners approach for our official event, but we do applaud these kids for having the guts to stand up and protest for what's right. It's great to know that last night there were people honking horns for in a good cause. See more pictures of the CHS group in my guest photo dump, thanks to Ted Pennings.
Reporter Kelly Brusch from the Californian attended the vigil -- yes, the same paper that publishes Rich Reiss! -- and wrote a great story about our event. She also wrote up the Bush Rally.
Oh, and speaking of which -- Bush rally attendee Rick Reiss posted his own impressions of our vigil, even though he wasn't there. Reiss's clever commentary consists of calling us all "dope smoking peaceniks," spewing last year's tired Republican talking points, and making the amazing claim that we are hiding our "hippie" agenda by...acting like hippies.
Really! He said this: "You have attempted to cloak your leftist anti-American views beneath the facade of lit candles, incense and new age chanting." Man! We can't put anything past Rick Reiss. We are trying to fool everyone into thinking we're liberals, when really we're liberals.
So, anyway, that's the story of how our little group of peace-loving, loyal Americans gathered on the anniversary of the war's beginning to remember the human cost of war and meet a friendly duck named Dorothy.