Street-corner protesters dread yet another war [Commentary]

At 7 p.m. on Sept. 9, June Martyn turned on her portable stereo at the corner of Columbia's Little Patuxent and Broken Land parkways, and let the sounds from "Waging Peace for Children and Other Living Things," a CD Martyn created with Howard County poets, musicians and peace activists, waft into the air. More than 50 people joined her, carrying signs protesting the Obama administration's threat to bomb Syria with missiles in retaliation for its government's alleged gassing of its own people, killing more than 1,400 of them. Drivers of cars, trucks and buses honked their horns in support of the demonstration. Some stopped to take pictures of the scene.

As the setting sun turned evening into night, Martyn, a years-ago founder of the Howard County branch of Grandmothers for Peace, handed out candles, lighting up that busy intersection. Scores of drivers shouted their approval.


One activist gave a yell to honk if the passing drivers are not with the NSA, and to his delight, a driver laughed heartily, stopped his car and snapped a photo with his cellphone. The National Security Agency has been under fire since it was revealed that the government bureau has been reading the communications of private citizens.

The gathering was an inspiration and a request by MoveOn.org, a nonprofit public policy advocacy group that supports progressive causes. MoveOn asked its members to organize vigils across the country to send a message to Congress demanding that America settle its impending war with Syria diplomatically, and Howard County responded. Between rebel fighters and the Syrian army, more than 100,000 people have died.

America is exhausted, claimed one woman activist, while pleading that the country cannot afford another war. She said she felt as though she was stepping back in time when America was fighting a war in Iraq during the years of the George Bush administration that, until recently, continued under President Obama.

Despite Obama's pledge that American soldiers would not actually fight in Syria, with his promise of no boots on the ground, the woman pointed out that polls show that most Americans are against a U.S. missile strike, despite the human tragedy taking place in Syria.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans polled said they wanted Congress to vote against such action, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. U.S. troops oppose war on Syria 3 to 1, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

A few hours before the protest, Secretary of State John Kerry remarked that a strike against Syria could be averted if its president rids his country of chemical weapons, according to the Baltimore Sun. That call was taken up by Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, who began to broker that possibility with his Syrian ally. Although some of the protesters were aware of those occurrences, they said they were not deterred in their getting a congressional commitment for a peaceful solution.

"The momentum is still developing against a strike," said Martyn, a Columbia resident. "The people's voice is loud and it speaks to the world. Russia is making the proposal and others are finding it to be a good idea. Killing more civilians to avenge the ones already killed is insane."

A man from Clarksville offered that violence is never an answer. His wife urged that peace is not a destination, it's a practice. Jim Rose, a member of the Patapsco Friends Meeting, in Ellicott City, said he stood at this very corner for 14 months during the Iraq War.

"Now I'm back on this same corner, and I hope we don't have to come back," he said.

Added Brian Smith, also a Friends member, "I hope we can come back with thank-you signs."