For those devoted to peace, it's not about politics

August 30, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

AT 40TH STREET and Elm Avenue, between the Rotunda shopping center and the Roland Park Place retirement center, the tiny sound of the clicker resounds like a drumbeat. Sidney Hollander holds one in his hand, and Dwayne Parrack has another. Parrack's the numerator, and Hollander's the denominator. Between them, they're trying to compute the arithmetic of peace.

They're out there every Friday at noon, part of a group made up of residents of the retirement center and Women in Black, the local branch of the international peace group.

"Honk For Peace," says a sign. With honking comes the sound of the clickers. Parrack counts the positive responses, Hollander counts all the cars: the numerator and the denominator, trying to measure a community mood in a time of national anxiety.

"Last week," Hollander was saying yesterday, "we counted 652 cars that passed by in an hour. And 209 gave positive acknowledgments. That's a new record, and pretty remarkable. A thumbs-up, a wave, a honking of the horn. Or, in one case, a young man rode by on a bicycle and said, `Honk, honk.'"

"Any negative responses?" he is asked.

"Three," he says. "A thumbs-down. A finger up. Some sort of vehemence."

Hollander pauses, to let the numbers sink in for a moment. He is 90 years old, a resident of Roland Park Place and a World War II veteran who's "been involved in peace organizations ever since I went to a Quaker college." He went to Haverford. He is retired after a long career as an opinion and market researcher.

"I don't claim for a minute that the national ratio is 200 to 3," he says. "After all, I spent my life as an opinion researcher. I wouldn't put our numbers up against the Gallup organization. But public opinion is changing on this war. There's an enormous shift. And, as this goes on, people are getting killed and the United States is losing its reputation, and making enemies among our friends. And the idea that we have to kill more people to justify the lives of those who have already been killed doesn't strike me as logical anywhere outside the White House."

The reference is to President Bush's remarks last week, trying to rally support for the war effort with Cindy Sheehan camped outside his Texas ranch, and Bush's poll numbers and support for his war plummeting, and peace groups taking courage from the combination.

On Sept. 11, Women in Black will hold a noontime demonstration, its fourth annual Peace Path, a three-hour vigil strung out on Charles Street from the Inner Harbor to the Beltway. It is billed as "a response to grief and anger called up by the Sept. 11 anniversary."

"Women in Black," says Judy Lombardi, a member who teaches sociology at Villa Julie College, "is just this fuzzy organization, no clear rules, other than standing in silence, wearing black, urging peace. I was told that we're considered a radical organization. Because we stand for peace? I thought radicals were people who use violence to meet their agenda. What kind of culture do we live in when people standing for peace are considered radicals? I guess, a culture where violence is accepted, and encouraged, and honored.

"It's not just about the war," says Lombardi. "It's about the very notion of peace instead of violence. We stand out there to remind everybody, there are some people who want peace. I think that's hard to find in our culture, where the environment emphasizes conflict. The television, the movies, even talk radio, where it's not about having a conversation, it's about fighting - fighting with words."

On the same day Women in Black has scheduled its Peace Path demonstration for locations around the world, the Pentagon will stage its own Freedom Walk intended as a memorial to the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. For those opposing the war, though, it's not just a reminder of those who lost their lives - but of this White House and its apologists inventing a fraudulent link between the Sept. 11 attackers and Saddam Hussein to justify America's invasion of Iraq.

"This isn't about politics," says Carol Schreter, a social worker who's with Women in Black. "These folks standing out there every week, their politics are irrelevant. They're not for one political party or another. They're for peace, not violence. That's all."

Schreter grew up in Northwest Baltimore and attended Forest Park High School. As she spoke yesterday morning, reports arrived that Baltimorean Damion Campbell had been killed during fighting in Afghanistan. Two weeks ago, Baltimorean Toccara Green was killed in the fighting in Iraq. Both were Forest Park graduates.

The war hits close to home, and the sound of clickers on 40th Street are now measured like drumbeats.

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