And Let It Begin With Me

Some 38 years ago a young teacher, who was about to leave for work on a chilly prairie morning with his young wife, suddenly grabbed a manila file folder and carefully printed, in brown ‘magic marker’ the word PEACE.

And he placed this crude ‘sign’ in the kitchen window of their trailer (mobile home, to some).

Little did this teacher know the uproar he apparently caused in the little town of Colfax, Illinois, (pop. 900) by his simple act; done to participate, in his small way, with the Vietnam “Moratorium” that was taking place in far off Washington that day.

All these decades later your correspondent watched, and felt the same hope, tinged with the same sense of futility, as the Saturday crowds marched across Memorial Bridge and to the Pentagon to say ‘No’ to another intractable president.

Notables spoke, crowds cheered, march opponents screamed, banners and flags were hoisted; while the man who can stop it in an instant was probably watching basketball out in the Maryland woods.

Arlington cares about this conflict, as graves continue to be dug and filled, and does its bit in an effort to ‘bring the troops home.’ Home with damaged psyche’s, missing legs or arms, waiting and waiting for the government that seems to have abandoned them; wanting to believe it was worth it.

And what is there to do in the midst of all this? Arlingtonians in some quarters have not been sitting on their hands. For example, Arlingtonians gathered this week at the Unitarian Church on George Mason Drive for Reflections on Four Years of War … to “gather, mourn, hope, and act.” On the 19th, Arlingtonians stood in a silent candlelight vigil at the Clarendon park above the Clarendon Metro station, echoing what was done at the same time and place in March of 2003. Then, it was to stop plans to send troops and bombs; Monday it was to “demonstrate for bringing the troops home now.”

And tonight, March 21, at 7:30pm in the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, the Northern Virginia Chapter of the ACLU is hosting a forum on Guantanamo and Habeas Corpus: What Is at Stake? Moderator Jackie Northam, national security correspondent for National Public Radio, will preside over a panel featuring the pro bono attorney for 11 Guantanamo detainees, a Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, Amnesty International USA’s Advocacy Director for Human Rights and International Justice, and the Majority Counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

It’s all a bit overpowering for a former greenhorn from central Illinois. But Arlington offers us many more options than just putting a folder in the window. There are around us so many avenues to express our concern, making it almost an obligation — given that we sit at the locus of international power — to stand and be counted.

Marching isn’t comfortable for many, but standing with a candle, or participating in the habeas corpus public forum, provides doable alternatives than just watching it all unfold on television or in the papers.

We are a caring, peaceful community. We settle our disputes before a County Board that is amazingly cooperative, taking in all points of view before acting.

You have to wonder, “Would this have happened, if public servants as open and accountable as ours had been involved?” Would Arlington natives Stephen Sherman and James D. Blankenbecler still be alive? Would our nation be respected and not hated?

In the 1940s citizens were called upon to act: to save pots and pans, endure rationing, buy bonds and pay higher taxes. Now we are told to go on living, let the soldiers do their work and keep quiet. “If you don’t love America,” a sign waving opposite Saturday’s march read, “then leave it.” If you were of draft age in the late 60’s, you recall a similar refrain, “Love it or leave it.”

But the calling to remedy war, to save young lives as more die each day, is a strong and sacred one. Do we have that calling, that tug of responsibility? Do you? Do I?

We sing at church, “Let there be peace on Earth,” and then comes the refrain that challenges us: let it begin with me.

Nick Penning is an Arlington freelance writer. His column, “Penning Thoughts,” appears in alternating editions of The Arlington Connection.

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