Standing up

Editorial Notebook

July 29, 2006|By ANN LOLORDO

At midday, in the sticky heat, they take their positions along Baltimore's West 40th Street. A few chairs line the sidewalk. Posters are planted in the scruffy grass, taped to a utility pole, hoisted in the air. Sidney Hollander Jr., Betty Scott, Walter Ehrlich, Terry Dalsemer and a few others settle in for the next 60 minutes. It's the weekly vigil hour.

This collection of senior citizens (they range in age from 59 to 91) meets most every Friday on this stretch of North Baltimore, outside the Rotunda shopping center. They gather in silence, mostly, their sentiments and purpose displayed on homemade signs:

Honk for peace

In Iraq 2557 dead US troops

War is not the answer

Stop the destruction and killing in Lebanon

They may be peaceniks, but they're not protesters in the shout-'em-down, confrontational style of protests past. Some have served in world wars or have relatives in the military. Others have spent their adult lives as physicians, wives, pollsters, teachers, illustrators.

Standing on 40th Street, they don't really need to say anything. They measure their impact from the passing Ford Explorers, taxis, Camrys, Buicks and Subarus. There are honkers and wavers and gesticulators (91-year-old Mr. Hollander's characterization). There are nods and occasional comments, "All right," "No wars," "Good job," and this question from a passenger in a maroon van: "How do you orchestrate peace?"

It might prompt a larger discussion except for the venue, a busy city street. And yet, they're not out to convince anyone of anything.

"For me, I feel like there is very little I can do that has an effect on really changing the political climate right now," says Ms. Dalsemer, a Baltimore native and semiretired psychotherapist. "There is something about standing for peace that requires that everybody who drives by thinks about it for a second or a minute."

For some, their vigiling (as they call it) began by joining a "peace path" that snaked up Charles Street in 2002. Others met Baltimore members of Women in Black, an Israeli-based peace group, whose weekly vigils downtown spawned similar gatherings on the campus of Loyola College, and in Towson, Westminster and Frederick.

"You never know, when you're out there, where these little ripples are going," says Betsy G. Cunningham, a lawyer who attends the downtown vigils.

They're not peace proselytizers. But they have inspired a Westminster girl scout, Melanie Passmore, to earn her gold badge with a peace project; Fallston artist Fritz Schantz to stake out his own corner with a self-made peace flag; and Donna "Jinx" Schwartz to stand with them.

Ms. Schwartz, a retired flight attendant, was walking by the 40th Street group one day a while back and was invited to join them. Angry about the war in Iraq, Ms. Schwartz, 66, picked up a sign and has been a devotee ever since. She stands in solidarity with the other seniors, but her participation is an individual act of conscience.

"You feel you are making your thoughts known," she says.

Margaret Musgrove, a member of the Loyola College group, says her vigil is a way of praying "because you feel so helpless at what's going on in the world."

The vigilers report a few obscene gestures and periodic shouts in support of President Bush, but there was one young man who purposefully crossed a downtown street to tell Ms. Musgrove and others, "My brother is in Iraq so you can stand there."

She sees it differently. "We're standing for his brother's sake because the violence and the war don't make sense," says the 60-year-old writer. "For me, I don't feel right if I don't do it."

An hour a week or month may not seem like much of a commitment, but it's not how long the vigilers stand. It's that they stand at all.

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