The Columbia Peace Coalition is more diligent than even the U.S. Postal System. Through rain, sleet, snow and even on holidays, the group meets outside the post office every Saturday to protest American wars.
They stand with signs bidding passers-by to “Honk for Peace.”
“We keep fighting wars all the time,” said John Schuder of Columbia. “Helping South America, Central America fight each other.”
Mark Robertson, of Columbia, added, “Protecting the vital nutmeg industry.”
Because Saturday’s peace vigil fell on the five-year anniversary of Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States’ war against the Taliban, the group held signs protesting the fighting in Afghanistan. Robertson said that after the buildup to Iraq, focus on Afghanistan diminished, but both civilians and soldiers are still dying there.
A woman crossing Walnut Street carried a large purple portfolio full of signs.
“We’re doing Afghanistan, so I found this,” she said, holding up a sign listing the countries where the United States has deployed soldiers. Other signs read, “Operation Enduring Freedom hasn’t created any” and “U.S. out of Afghanistan.”
As more members arrived and formed a line on the grass, the air was punctuated with honks and beeps.
“I think you’re wonderful,” a woman coming from the post office said. “I remember doing this during Vietnam. I just thank you.”
The Columbia Peace Coalition does have opposition.
Melissa Skinner of Columbia said, “Occasionally there’s a rude person or the person is honking for the person on the other side of the street.”
On Saturday, there was one woman standing on the other side of the street holding an “Isreal (sic) is forever” sign with an American flag. She declined to comment. But the peace marchers said that opposition to their message has waned over the last five years.
“When the Iraq war started, we got more single fingers,” said Kim Dillon of Columbia. “We joked that the other part of the peace sign was missing.”
Schuder has been involved in war protest since the 1940s and has been meeting with the coalition since it formed in 2001. He said the goals of the coalition are multipurpose.
“I think it’s one way to influence how your government goes,” he said, though he notes it hasn’t been very successful in the past few years. “People feel obligated to themselves to protest. It’s a way to let your friends know where you stand.”
Schuder’s religious beliefs are his impetus to protest war. As a Quaker, he believes it’s wrong to kill people.
Dillon also said killing is wrong, and she said there is diversity in coalition participants. Protest, she said, is generally associated with tree-huggers and hippies, but many could be considered mainstream Americans.