Iraq War Peace Vigil Takes A Break Peace activists in Potsdam, N.Y., have held a vigil every Saturday morning on front of the post office for more than six years. Now they are going on hiatus to give President Barack Obama a chance to fulfill his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
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Iraq War Peace Vigil Takes A Break

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Iraq War Peace Vigil Takes A Break

Iraq War Peace Vigil Takes A Break

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. For six years, the anti-war movement has been going strong in the little village of Potsdam, New York. Every week, peace activists have gathered there for a vigil to protest the Iraq war. They held another gathering this past weekend, and it was their last, at least for a while. The group is taking a hiatus. They say they're giving the new president a chance to bring the troops home. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reports.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: It's two degrees at 10:59 in the morning. Roger Cunningham is the first to arrive. Just his eyes peek out from a coat and scarf and hat.

Mr. ROGER CUNNINGHAM (Peace Activist): Well, we're in front of the United States Post Office in Potsdam, New York. I'm carrying a very well-tattered peace flag here that has just about shredded from use.

SOMMERSTEIN: Cunningham is among the couple dozen regulars who have demonstrated on this corner every Saturday from 11 till noon. Often just a handful of people show up, but today a crowd of forty assembles. People hug and laugh and congratulate each other that their guy's in the Oval Office now. Someone fires up a propane heater. A few people carry "Honk for Peace" signs. Kim Bouchard(ph) unfurls a big banner that reads "War is Over! If You Want It."

Ms. KIM BOUCHARD (Peace Activist): The beginning of the Barack Obama administration really heralds the prospect, the promise, the hope that there is going to be a difference in terms of how we handle our grievances with each other.

SOMMERSTEIN: This group's placing a lot of faith in President Obama, so much faith that this corner will be empty next Saturday for the first time since before the Iraq war began. Rob Jewett is a member of the local Veterans for Peace chapter.

Mr. ROB JEWETT (Member, Veterans for Peace): We figured, why should we be out here holding a peace vigil if the chief executive is promoting the very values that we stand here for. So, we're going to give him that chance. And if the war fever builds back up, we're going to be out here promoting peace again.

SOMMERSTEIN: Some liberals are a little nervous about President Obama's first foreign policy moves. He stuck with Bush appointee Robert Gates as secretary of defense. His timeline for withdrawal from Iraq is little different from President Bush's plan as he left office. Drones are still dropping missiles on Pakistan. Still, Kim Bouchard says it's just time to wait and see.

Ms. BOUCHARD: Will I drop my criticism or will I not be stopping looking critically? No, but I'm ready for that hope.

SOMMERSTEIN: And they're ready for a break. Rob Jewett says early on they were sometimes jeered or flipped the bird.

Mr. JEWETT: The cutest thing that ever happened was a young person going by in a pickup yelling at all these people that - I'll bet the average age was 67 years old here, when they said, "Get a job."

SOMMERSTEIN: There were high points like when 200 people showed up for the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion. The rallies nearly fizzled when President Bush won a second term.

(Soundbite of cars honking)

SOMMERSTEIN: No one chants at these vigils. There's no shouting or singing. That was the approach of the 80-year-old woman who started the whole thing, Ruth Beebe. Beebe died two years ago. Robin McClelland(ph) laments she's not here.

Mr. ROBIN MCCLELLAND (Peace Activist): It was such a joy to work with her. I learned so much about being effective, not getting discouraged and walking away, and not getting all excited and getting arrested.

SOMMERSTEIN: The Potsdam peaceniks haven't settled on exactly what it would take for them to reinstate the vigil. But by noon, toes are numb, noses are red, people are ready to go. They roll up their banners, say goodbye, and head home to give peace a chance. For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in Potsdam, New York.

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