Weekly Peace Vigil, Peterborough Town House Saturdays at Noon

The Peace Vigil Enters its Eighth Year

There has been a vigil for peace in front of the Peterborough, NH Town House every Saturday (with three exceptions for weather-related emergencies) since late September, 2001, and Monadnock Friends have been among the organizers and the most faithful participants.

Since at least the time of the Gulf War, there were frequent peace vigils and demonstrations in Peterborough, the market-town of the eastern Monadnock region, and from that time onward, Friends from Monadnock Quaker Meeting have been among the organizers. The world-changing events of September 11, 2001 reactivated the peace vigils, which had been dormant for several years. The regular Saturday peace vigils that were held in the early years of the Gulf War were not sustained during the long period of deadly sanctions against Iraq, although those sanctions, and the consequent suffering of the Iraqi people, weighed heavily on the hearts of Friends.

The need to witness for justice and healing instead of war-making compelled a number of Friends, including Jim Giddings and Allison Kaufhold to join other local people of good will. While some Friends thought that a silent vigil would be most illustrative of the peace we envisioned, the atmosphere in the early days was very excited, and what participants most needed was a way to overcome isolation and despair, to share their feelings and thoughts, so the vigil became a non-silent one and has remained so for most of its history since. Some people made and held signs with phrases such as “Peace Not War”, “Risk Peace”, “Peace on Earth”. Others simply stood silently or conversed. Sometimes one person would step to the front to convey news or make an announcement.

The vigil became a regular feature at noon every Saturday, and special larger events were held at other times to celebrate or mourn a milestone in the national march to war. Issues such as torture, the ongoing Israel/Palestine conflict, nuclear escalation and domestic surveillance were addressed by some vigilers from time to time. Many times, the ranks of the vigil were swelled by people who were outraged by a specific development in the war(s), or by people working for specific political causes and candidates. The group governed itself by on-site discussions rather than by selecting a steering committee, and thus no formal local organization has emerged from the vigil. Sometimes conflict arose about tactics and words, but discussion helped all to arrive at a consensus that, while not everyone at the vigil was a pacifist, we would not make negative attacks on others and would remain civil and nonviolent when confronted. We agreed that, while other issues may take center stage at a given moment in time, the central message is that war is the wrong answer to the problems the world faces, and that nonviolence needs to be tried and tried again, on international and local scales. We call ourselves a vigil because, as vigilers have from time immemorial, we stand and watch for signs of grace, and for people to approach bringing the gifts of questions, encouragement, knowledge and perspectives. At times we may also be a demonstration; at all times we stand as witnesses to truth.

My experience with an ongoing Friends peace vigil in Denver in the 1970s led me to suggest that we end the vigil each week by singing the 1950's Ed McCurdy song “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”, and, even when umbers have dwindled from a high of near fifty participants down to two or three, we have honored the custom most weeks.

When I was asked to write something about the ongoing vigil for peace in front of the Peterborough Town House, I realized that I would never be able to set forth just the facts and figures about it. Unlike many Friends, I have not kept a daily journal, and as we approach the eighth anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, the years blend together into one. The commitment that two Monadnock Friends undertook in late September, 2001 to witness for peace in public each week until the world regained at least some of its senses, has proven to be a more enduring one than we could have imagined at the time. Each Saturday at noon, I show up at the town house with signs and banners and I'm joined by one or more of the other peace vigilers for an hour, whatever the weather. I have held and lost several jobs since the vigil began, my daughter has graduated from High School and college and moved away. Allison Kaufhold, the other Friend who undertook the commitment with me, died shortly after her 90th birthday, in September, 2007. The vigil was never a project of the Meeting as a whole, although the Meeting's Peace and Social Concerns Committee repeatedly supported it and Friends have held us in the Light. In addition to numerous Friends, among the first participants in the vigil were many other local people of good will: Unitarians, Episcopalians, Catholics, as well as non-believers and people whose opposition to the war arose from political concerns. The Concord-based organization New Hampshire Peace Action has encouraged and provided materials for our vigil and others around the state, as have the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the New Hampshire office of the American Friends Service Committee.
- Jim Giddings