The weekly Eagle Rock peace vigil has passed the five-year mark.
It began in November of 2002 to protest the looming invasion of Iraq. The weekly turnout back then was 60 to 80--it is currently at two-to-four regulars (all "veterans"). We have never missed a Saturday regardless of weather or holidays--except once in December of ’02 to observe Xmas.
The passion and momentum from this vigil resulted in much other activism in Northeast L.A., including a second weekly vigil on Sundays in nearby Highland Park (still ongoing); weekly film screenings at Flor y Canto, which occurred for two-and-a-half years (a comprehensive list of our screenings follows this article); donations to local homeless; leafleting at a local high school (now in its fifth year); and environmental endeavors including participation in Arroyo Fest 2003 and a campaign to daylight a stream that today is covered by Sycamore Grove Park.
Both vigils have had numerous special events, including annual observations of Labor Day; Hiroshima and Nagasaki Days; and the anniversary of the CIA overthrow of Iran’s last democratically-elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh. Also, in recent years we have held vigils on Xmas day, New Years Day, and Easter Sunday. Numerous birthdays have been celebrated at the vigils as well. Some of these events have been reported here at LA IndyMedia. A few examples:
Resurrect Peace Easter Vigil (2007), Earth Day Vigil ‘07, Hiroshima/Nagasaki Days ‘07, and Impeachment Day, April 28, ‘07.
Recently, Nina and Barbara, two veteran vigilers, reflected on five years of weekly vigiling. “I wouldn’t know what to say about that,” was Nina’s initial response. “I was just thinking we need a sign that says, ‘Honk if you want this protest to continue.’ Here we are five years later, we haven’t stopped the war, we haven’t gotten heath care, and people seem to be able to just keep going forward putting one foot in front of the other and ignoring what’s going on—ignoring the planet, ignoring the war, ignoring people going without health care.”
However, Barbara pointed out: “as long as we’re here they can’t completely ignore us. There is maybe the 10-second period where they [the passersby] have to deal with reality.”
Nina added: “We are their little conscience sitting on their shoulders saying once a week: ‘Hey! There’s a world out here! There’s something besides your selfish needs.’
“It’s amazing to think it’s been five years. It’s been one of the most consistent threads in my life for the past five years! [Laughs.]”
Barbara continued: “I’ve always had this hope that maybe instead of having to stand on the street corner and hold signs, we could just get together and talk at a coffee shop or something. I like the people, I like you guys. I feel it’s nice to have gotten to know you, I just wish that the reasons that we’re all standing out on this corner freezing our butts off had gone away or never happened in the first place. It would have been real nice [if we could have] prevented those things from the beginning.”
Talk turned to alternatives to vigiling. Nina: “You know, if we spent two hours a week sitting in a coffee shop talking, we might come up with a plan to do something more effective than what we’re doing.” One tactic that many in the peace movement have hoped would come together is general strikes, a common practice in other countries. The challenge is to “get this lazy country to sit down and do nothing for one day,” laughed Nina
The Eagle Rock Vigil was started by Bob Squires. He recalled the genesis of it back in 2003 in our now-defunct newsletter “Vigilizing Peace through Justice” (aka: “The Vigilizer”).
“In early October , I had attended a Neighbors for Peace and Justice protest in Silverlake,” he said. “It seemed to make better sense to me that I protest in my own neighborhood. While I only knew one other activist in Mt. Washington, I suspected that many others in the community felt as I did and that organizing a protest group would not be so difficult. It seemed crucial to get out on the streets to counter the lies upon lies to which the public was being subjected.
“We held our first protest on the first weekend in November 2002. The weather was not cooperative for the first few Saturdays. We were rained upon and the lettering on our signs bled. Still, we had a diehard group. We first got to know each other better by going to Swork for coffee after one of our early protests. We started the Neighbors for Peace and Justice Educational Exchange Yahoo group where we post and exchange ideas and valuable information. . . .
“Vigiling offers an opportunity to be spat upon, cursed, yelled at, and threatened. It also serves as an effective way for us to inform our communities that all they see on television is not all that there is to know. We help people move beyond their fear and question their attitudes and viewpoints.”
Bob since founded Carlotta’s Passion, an art store in Eagle Rock, which hosted several activist events.
Nina Zvaleko recalled the beginning of her involvement with the vigil : “I was about to start a vigil in Highland Park when Jeff told me folks were vigiling on Eagle Rock Boulevard. I went out one cool November Saturday and met my newest set of best friends. I remember I kept feeling, and saying, "I can’t believe we have to do this again". I was old enough to protest Viet Nam, and was on the lines against Desert Storm, and objected to the destruction of Afghanistan. These spaced with working for jobs and education verses a bloated military budget. It has been a series of demonstrations and vigils, mixed with leafleting, voter registration, and daily conversations with anyone who will talk about it.”
Jennifer Murphy, another of our earliest vigilers, recalled the extensive activities for children when the vigil was larger. “I remember Mandela, Connor, and Max playing; staying behind the chalk line as requested; coloring peace signs; picking up trash; running around on the lawn. I remember Nina's always being so well prepared with signs, umbrella, chairs, toys, snacks.“
A long-time activist in Los Angeles, Jennifer and her family will soon be moving to another part of the country. They will be greatly missed by many in the activist community. Undoubtedly, Jennifer will continue to be very dynamic in her new community.
Film Nights at Flor y Canto
As was noted earlier, an outgrowth of the vigil was film nights at the bygone community space Flor y Canto. It occurred almost every week for two-and-a-half years. (Eventually, we began taking one night off a month for Critical Mass.) After the screenings had been underway for some time, some of us felt like we were going through college all over again.
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