By WENDI LYNN STEFFKE, Special to the Times Union
First published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006
UILDERLAND — It’s rush hour at routes 155 and 20, and traffic is backing up. From 5 to 6 p.m., horns honk and drivers gesture with their hands.
But since it’s Monday night, the beeping horns at the busy intersection are mostly friendly, and some passers-by even display the peace sign.
Barbara Wickham of Guilderland protests the war in Iraq while standing on the corner of Routes 20 and 155 last month. (Lori Van Buren / Times Union)
The goodwill can be attributed to Guilderland Neighbors for Peace, a small but dedicated group of residents opposed to the war in Iraq who have held a one-hour vigil at the intersection for the past eight weeks and counting.
It started with three women and is modeled after the actions of a similar group, Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace.
“We just decided we needed a presence in Guilderland,” said 57-year-old co-founder Chris Lapinski.
“We were tired of complaining about it. If we could only do one thing, we thought we should do that one thing,” added Patty Schardt, 50. “We are not these hard-core activists.”
The first week, it was just Lapinski, Schardt and Liz Allen who stood outside. Now about 12 members drop by at different times during one of the group’s weekly vigils.
Hand-made signs read “Peace is Possible,” “Honk for Peace,” and “War is not the answer.”
The honking is almost constant, followed by waves and the flashing of the peace sign. Very infrequently does someone turn thumbs down to the peace activists or yell something like “go home” out the window of their vehicle, Lapinski said.
Mark Roberts is one of the “hard-core” protesters the women are referring to. The 59-year-old has been carrying peace signs for 40 years, and participates in several anti-war groups.
Roberts said the Internet has made it much easier to communicate and educate peace activists than was previously the case, but that anti-war movements follow a predictable pattern.
“It’s always a process. In the beginning, people believe the government more,” Roberts said. But as time goes by, “the reality of the war becomes quite apparent over the propaganda of the government.”
Guilderland Neighbors for Peace now boasts about 25 members and is branching out beyond its opposition to the war. On Monday they hosted a viewing of the film “American Blackout” at the Guilderland Public Library. The movie chronicles what it calls recurring patterns of voter disenfranchisement from Florida 2000 to Ohio 2004, and examines tactics the producers say control the democratic process and silence political dissent.
The local activists hope to host monthly movie nights, but the core activity for Guilderland Neighbors for Peace will remain its weekly vigil.
“People tell us they look forward to seeing us every week,” Schardt said. “I saw a friend in the grocery story the other day, and I said, ‘I never see you anymore.’ ” She said, “I see you every week.’