By Jamie K. Donaldson, founding director of WPJC
For fifty years, the Bellingham - Whatcom Peace Vigil has held a space for peace on the corners of Magnolia and Cornwall in front of the old Federal Building in downtown Bellingham. It was started in December 1966 by local peace activist Colleen Dickinson and two Quakers, Rosemary and Howard Harris, in silent opposition to the Vietnam War. The first vigil was held in front of the city's Christmas tree. It then moved to its current location where the originators and their children vowed to witness for peace every Friday until the war ended.
Today, fifty years later, the intersection is lively with several dozen regular vigilers who stand for peace, nonviolence, and social justice every Friday afternoon from 4-5 p.m., rain or shine. Vigilers are individuals, members of local faith communities and of organizations such as Veterans for Peace, the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center, and Occupy Bellingham. Most carry hand-made banners and signs with messages about peace and justice. “My favorite sign says ‘War is a Racket,’” says 100-year old Evelyn Freeman, currently the vigil’s oldest participant. “I should know, since I had several brothers who had to go to war,” she adds. The youngest current vigiler is eight years old, and even dogs on leash are frequent attendees, showing by their presence that they’re not war mongrels.
Participation has waxed and waned over the decades, but there has never been a break to speak of in the weekly peace vigil. On occasion, it draws huge crowds that overflow to all four corners of the intersection and down the block, such as during the lead-up to the Iraq war in the early 2000’s. Pro-war demonstrators showed up as well during that time, including a caravan of 220 semi-trucks from Whatcom County that blew their horns and exhaust at the peace vigilers. Now, it is common that people in passing cars respond to the “Honk for Peace” sign, give a thumbs up, or call out “Thank you!” to show their support for peacemakers.
While no one is in charge of the Bellingham-Whatcom Peace Vigil, Vietnam War veteran Kerry Johnson brings the signs, the colorful flags made by local artist Harold Niven, and the large portable scaffolding that displays the vigil’s large banner as well as Earth flags and an information board. Often the local “Food not Bombs” group offers a free vegan meal to anyone passing by while the vigil is underway. It makes for a colorful and positive “happening” for peace and social justice every Friday afternoon in downtown Bellingham. All people of peace are welcome to join us on the corner, especially during the vigil's special 50th anniversary year.
For more information, contact Jamie K. Donaldson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos of the vigil are available upon request.