- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

To Debby Churchman, the war in Iraq is not only an international issue, but also an issue that hits close to home.

“Hello, the Pentagon is in Arlington, and no other area in the country with the exception of New York was more impacted by the acts of terrorism on 9/11 than we were,” said Mrs. Churchman, a member of Arlingtonians for Peace.

“This is a global issue with local impact,” she said, repeating her statement before the Arlington County Board on Saturday. Arlingtonians for Peace gathered 1,500 signatures during an eight-month petition drive to get the County Board to adopt a peace resolution similar to those enacted in more than 100 jurisdictions nationwide, including Alexandria, and the civil liberties resolutions passed in more than 170 jurisdictions, including Montgomery County.

Though the peace resolution failed to pass when presented to the board last week, Mrs. Churchman and the thousands who are part of a growing grass-roots peace movement in the Washington area will not be deterred.

“We’re all just regular, ordinary folks,” Mrs. Churchman said. “Some of these folks have been active in the peace movement for a very long time, but many have joined recently because of the deep and growing concern for their country.

“As one of them told me recently, ‘It’s as if we’ve been in some kind of coma for years, just assuming that everything is going along OK politically, but the war woke us up,’” she said.

These local peace activists have spent months educating themselves and the public about the Bush administration’s military action and foreign policies at meetings in church basements, town halls and private homes, holding informational forums, standing at weekly silent vigils, passing out leaflets on corners and in malls, and lobbying their congressional representatives.

One novelty is a roving Peace Cafe that meets monthly in downtown D.C., where hot topics such as the Patriot Act are debated.

Of course, these grass-roots “give-peace-a-chance” seekers have participated in numerous antiwar rallies and peace marches.

Mrs. Churchman, and many of her compatriots — members of the Northern Virginians for Peace, the Prince George’s County Peace and Justice Coalition, Montgomery County Against the War, the D.C. Anti-War Network, the Black Voices for Peace and Maryland United for Peace and Justice — will be part of antiwar demonstrations on the Mall tomorrow organized by International A.N.S.W.E.R. and United for Peace and Justice.

Asked how many peace marches she has walked in since the September 11 attacks, Mrs. Churchman, 54, said, “I’m trying to think of one I’ve missed.” A Washington native who grew up in Arlington, Mrs. Churchman is no stranger to peace demonstrations. She marched on the Mall against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.

In retrospect, she says, it was “wrong and mean” to march against the soldiers sent to fight an unpopular war. Today, she says, peace protesters are against the war policies, yet supportive of the troops they want to see brought back home.

It was on September 11, 2002, however, that this tall, thin, refined woman — who describes herself as “a middle-class, middle-age working mother of four who’d rather spend my weekends doing things with my kids, teaching Sunday school, and trying to keep up with the laundry” — got involved in the reinvigorated peace movement. “This is not something I sought out. This is something that called to me,” Mrs. Churchman said.

Indeed, this soft-spoken children’s magazine editor comes across as more of a librarian than a outspoken peace activist. A longtime Quaker, Mrs. Churchman “stumbled into something” by showing up at a meeting of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. They armed her with leaflets and sent her to Rep. James P. Moran’s office. There she met other Quakers, and they went on to lobby Virginia’s Republican Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen, but with less success.

Later, Mrs. Churchman, who is also a community volunteer working with youth and homeless groups, joined Arlingtonians for Peace and Northern Virginians for Peace, who met last night to plan for the rally to be held tomorrow.

Mrs. Churchman does not believe that petitioning and protesting is futile and foolish. She understands that people are “tired, discouraged and given up on democracy.” But, she adds, “This is no time to give up. We’re starting to rise.”

“Every great social movement in this country started as a grass-roots thing from the bottom up, not the top down,” she said. “We need to believe in ourselves, in our country, in the democratic process. We need to keep exercising our First Amendment rights to public dissent.”

Mrs. Churchman said that “despite being told that the County Board generally does not become involved in international issues, we know that this international issue affects Arlingtonians directly.” The Arlingtonians asked in their resolution that their local elected officials “write President Bush and speak out against the policy of unilateral, pre-emptive strikes against nations that are not directly threatening our [security], in other words … a letter in agreement with international law.” Second, to “write our congressional people and ask that they not fund such strikes.”

When she stood before the County Board to ask them to “stand up for peace,” Mrs. Churchman reasoned that because of the continuing war on terrorism, Arlington’s full-time and reserve military personnel have been put in extreme hardship and mortal danger in the Middle East; our government’s foreign policy has put every Arlingtonian at risk of further attacks; and “then there’s the money issue.” With the rising war price tag, the county government will have to either cut services to the poor or seek a tax increase, she said.

Worried that the opportunity for world peace was “squandered” by our national government, Mrs. Churchman now feels “it’s as if [the government] took a bucket of day-glo paint and wrote ‘sitting duck’ across the face of Arlington County, where I live.”

“Of course, I’m concerned” about peace, she says. “Who in the D.C. area isn’t?”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide