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A seven-year vigil for peace

A quiet gathering of people stood outside Haywood County’s courthouse on a recent Wednesday afternoon holding colorful signs and flags calling for peace. They waved back to smiling drivers who honked their car horns in support or gave thumbs up signs.

The scene has become a familiar part of every Wednesday for the protesters, who have stood their ground promoting the cause of peace at the same time every week for the last seven years.

“I am here to remind myself and others that the United States continues to participate in unnecessary and harmful military conflicts,” said Bob Kimzey, one of the regular demonstrators.

The informal group started showing up in front of the courthouse six months before the invasion of Iraq when war seemed almost inevitable, much to their displeasure. It began as a handful of friends, all women dressed all in black, protesting the war in silence. Men who also opposed the war joined them right away.

The numbers and makeup of the group have remained fluid, as some protesters have gone away to school, moved away, entered retirement homes, or even died.

But no matter who joins or who leaves, the group is devoted to delivering a message of peace, through every soldier and civilian death, through every twist and turn in the story of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, just hoping to raise awareness and make a difference.

Linda McFarland, who was a part of the inaugural group and continues to protest today, said she did not participate in protests against the Vietnam War as a college student but decided to get involved this time around.

“I tend to think of it more as a vigil, that we’re there to help people remember what’s going on,” McFarland said.

Regardless of how controversial these activists’ beliefs may be even now, they continually shy away from politics and partisanship in their protests — as difficult as that may be to achieve in the public eye.

Through all seven years, the protesters have never held partisan signs or worn T-shirts that support specific candidates.

“I’m a pacifist. I’m not big into politics,” said Dillon Roop, 22, who has attended the protests for three years now.

The activists say they have noticed increasing support from passersby since they started back in September 2002, though there’s still the occasional thumbs down or negative comment.

Some “flip us the bird,” said Roop, who chooses to respond by putting up a peace sign or blowing back a kiss. Fortunately, Roop said, most of the responses are positive.

McFarland said she sees no contradiction in simultaneously supporting the troops and still working to bring them home. Though there are people who disagree with the protesters’ views, McFarland said that is to be expected.

“We don’t expect 100 percent agreement,” she said. “It’s nice to have some people at least respond ... As people drive along, they probably see us ... Maybe they have a chance to think about the implications of what’s going on in the world.”

At the very least, the protests make a difference to the protesters themselves.

“There’s a sense of community among those that come,” she said. “A reassurance that even if it’s just a handful of us, that we make an effort to get there.”

Sarah MacEwen of Waynesville said she attended the protests for six months but stopped since her new work schedule prohibited her from continuing. MacEwen said younger people just don’t always have the time to devote to peace efforts.

Roop said he wished more people his age were striving for peace anyway, even if it is hard to ever imagine a world without war.

“I’m sure a lot of people our age that believe in peace,” said Roop.

“Maybe they’re Twittering,” said MacEwen.

The group will continue their demonstrations from 4 to 5 p.m. every Wednesday in front of Haywood County’s courthouse in Waynesville until the wars in the Middle East end.

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