Arundel woman's anti-war message quiet but visible

April 06, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Amid signs for a bed and breakfast, a roadside cafe and other businesses along West Street leading into downtown Annapolis, a simple white sign stands nearly 5 feet tall near the sidewalk.

In black, handwritten numbers and letters, the double-sided sign details for passing motorists the number of American soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq as of March 19, the second anniversary of the start of the war.

It says: "24 months, $156 billion, 1,492 dead, 10,968 wounded."

The sign in Annapolis, the home of the U.S. Naval Academy, is the work of a Quaker woman speaking her piece - or peace - of mind. Located in the front yard of her brown shingle house, it has been defaced several times since it was put up in November. But Kim Finch keeps restoring it.

"Everybody has a tipping point," said Finch, who has lived on West Street for 23 years. "For a Quaker, one death is too many."

Unlike many in the anti-war movement, Finch's opposition to the conflict - and to all wars - stems from a faith that is pacifist to the core.

The 50-year-old mother of three daughters belongs to the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. Nonviolence and simplicity are two guiding principles, as far as Friends are concerned.

`Peace testimony'

The sign, she said, is a public form of "peace testimony."

"Location, location, location," Finch said wryly of the sign's visibility across the street from the library branch in this city of 30,000 residents, which has a large number of military retirees in addition to the 4,000 midshipmen in the academy brigade.

The sign is another example of how some area residents have used public displays to air their views on the war.

In Ellicott City, a man has strung holiday lights on a fence to form a four-digit number showing how many Americans have died in the war. Jon T. Merryman said he was not protesting the war, but calling attention to the daily sacrifices of soldiers who he felt were not being appreciated during the presidential campaign.

Pentagon facts

Finch's sign is not the standard blue "War is not the answer!" favored by some. Instead, it depends on figures from the Pentagon's Web site.

"I'm trying to stick with the facts, the cost of the Iraqi war," Finch said.

Having protested against the Vietnam War as a college student in upstate New York, Finch has seen such social conflict before.

She said she posted the sign after feeling "pretty despondent" over last fall's presidential election. Although it has been defaced several times, neither Finch nor anyone else has filed crime reports, and police have not investigated the incidents.

Freedom of speech

W. Minor Carter, a longtime Annapolis resident who graduated from the academy before serving in Vietnam, does not know Finch but supports her right to post a sign.

"I think it's outrageous it's being defaced," Carter, a lawyer, said. "Freedom of speech is what makes the country great. That [vandalism] doesn't do much for civil discourse."

As to Finch's pacifist beliefs, Carter said, "More power to her," although, he added, he supports the war effort.

Finch came to the Society of Friends as a young woman who noticed how active Quakers were in opposing the Vietnam War - "in a constructive way," she added. "In faith and practice."

Activist roots

Quakers also were on the front lines of the anti-slavery Underground Railroad and the women's rights movement. Susan B. Anthony, a leader in the women's suffrage movement in the 19th and early 20th century, was raised in a Quaker family.

An environmental planner who lives with her husband, daughters, a cat and a dog, Finch said she sees a generational arc in her anti-war activities.

Finch noted that draft eligibility ended with those born in 1954 - the year of her birth. "Now it's my [eldest] daughter's friends who are going off to war."

Finch declined to be photographed, explaining, "Let the sign speak for itself."

Quaker history

But her serious countenance relents for a moment when she mentions that Anne Arundel County, not famously Quaker Philadelphia, was the birthplace of American Quakerism.

Noting that George Fox, the English founder of the Religious Society of Friends, traveled through parts of South County more than 300 years ago, Finch said, "This was the first stronghold of American Quakerism."

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