Bellingham – Whatcom Peace Vigil Started in 1966
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.
By Matteo Tamburini, Board president
Janet Marino has done some sterling work in our community as Executive Director of the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center from May 2011 to now, keeping the spotlight on issues that are no less pressing for being far from the public eye. One step towards moving the issues closer to the street has been to move the WPJC office out of the Bellingham Herald Building to its current location on Bay Street, where we are proud that it has been used by a variety of community organizations and initiatives such as Amnesty International, the first steps of the recently formed Racial Justice Coalition, the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival, and more.
She has helped coordinate and promote many speaking events by activists such as Brian Willson, Cindy and Craig Corrie, Michael McPhearson, as some of the young Palestinian writers involved in the Gaza Writes Back book project, and most recently David Swanson. It is in part through events like these that the conversation about militarism is kept alive in our community. Janet has also been the steward of the Alternatives to Military Service program, helping to coordinate volunteers as part of this ongoing work.
Janet also worked to help coordinate local mobilizations such as the protest against US bombing in Syria in 2013, part of an international movement that effectively stalled President Obama’s push to bomb that country (the only time in history that combined pressure has prevented military action by our government) and allowed Secretary of State John Kerry to stumble onto a peaceful way to rid Syria of chemical weapons.
Recently, Janet has also joined the efforts of the Friends Committee on National Legislation to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force that granted President Bush the authority to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and which President Obama relies on to continue drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, as well as waging a counterproductive bombing campaign against ISIS.
This has been and continues to be the bread and butter of the work of the WPJC.
However, Janet has also presided over some pretty major changes to the organization. The main change has certainly been that the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center has become the home of the Whatcom Civil Rights Project and the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, which means that she took on the responsibility of being the one of the main organizers of the annual Martin Luther King Human Rights conference at Whatcom Community College.
We are grateful for all her work, wish her the best of luck with her new job, and look forward to all the work she will do to create a better, more just society in the future!
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