NYC Peace Rally

9:08 pm Feature Stories

Wilkes Barre Times Leader

March 21, 2004 Sunday MAIN EDITION


BYLINE: DAWN SHURMAITIS, Special to the Times Leader

NEW YORK CITY – At Sixth and 40th, Charlotte Lewis found her voice – and her friends.

“Peace. Release. Democracy,” Lewis chanted as tens of thousands of anti-war protesters marched through midtown Manhattan on Saturday as part of a global recognition of the one-year anniversary of the Iraq war. Lewis, a 16-year-old from Scranton, bussed to the rally with 50 other activists from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties.

When she heard Lewis’ voice, local organizer Lita Dunn Grossman yelped with glee from the street corner, where she’d been anxiously scanning the streaming crowd, on the lookout for friends and fellow protesters. “Oh thank God. I told her mother I wouldn’t lose her.”

Lewis, who carried a hand-painted sign of Death riding into battle with an American flag, says she wanted to demonstrate for peaceful resistance. “A lot of students are ignorant or apathetic. It’s nice to be part of something.”

The big-city rally attracted students and professors from College Misericordia and Marywood University, as well as members of the Wilkes-Barre Peace Center and the Scranton chapter of Fellowship of Reconciliation, a faith-based peace and justice group.

Like the boisterous crowd they joined at Madison Park, the locals represented a spectrum of ages, colors – and piercings. The rally attracted 6- and 8-year-old sisters Frances and Miranda Pikul, who walked 40 blocks carrying a sign that said “Support Our Troops. Pay Them.” Also, there were gray-haired protest veterans and newcomers such as Chris Somers, associate director of the College Misericordia campus ministry.

“A larger voice makes a difference,” says Somers, 36, of Dallas. “It makes people think and hopefully gets them to vote, too.”

Daria Pampaloni and Dunn Grossman organized the trip, which cost $10.

“Anytime you can share and exchange ideas, it’s a good thing,” says Pampaloni, 41, of Scranton, a Navy and Gulf War veteran. “I think this war is wrong on so many levels.”

For nearly four hours, as the protesters made a long loop from 23rd to 41st Street north and south along Sixth and Madison avenues, Bill Ritter, 16, of Clarks Summit, held high a sign that read: “Blood of militarism equals the Death of a Nation.”

“To me this is what Democracy is all about – to have a voice,” Ritter says. “I’m here to support my Democratic rights.”

Along the route, protesters chanted numerous slogans and waved a variety of signs: “100 Percent Patriot. No Act Needed.” “Bring the Troops Home Now.” “World Trade is a Guise for War.” “I Love My County But Fear My Government.”

Hundreds of police officers from five New York boroughs lined both sides of the street but did little more than guide protesters along, offering directions and the occasional supportive comment. “This is nice,” says a baton-carrying officer stationed at 33rd Street of the carnivallike atmosphere. “This is beautiful.”

As helicopters buzzed overhead, a long line of speakers made their way to a makeshift stand outside Madison Park, making repeated mention of the worldwide day of protest taking place in 267 U.S. cities and in 50 overseas nations. A million people, the organizers announced, rallied Saturday in Rome. “The people of the world are here to say we will stop you,” the speakers said. They urged the protestors to chant “End the war. End the occupation. Bring our troops home now.”

Cell phones and digital cameras were as prevalent as peace signs and banners. On the sidelines, entrepreneurs hawked $2 bumper stickers and $1 pins. “Bush/Orwell 2004” was a popular seller. On Sixth Avenue, NYPD Patrolman Dennis Kelley flashed a peace sign and a smile at protesters clamoring to take photos. “That restores my faith in the NYPD,” says Grossman, recalling the anger and aggression that marred the anti-war protest held in New York shortly before the war began. “It’s a whole ‘nother city.”

Aminata Cham came with three other members of a newly formed local chapter of Amnesty International, an international human rights organization. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a difference,” says Cham, 22, of Luzerne. “Even the slightest difference is important.”

Glen Lyon student Don Stefanovich attended numerous weekly prayer vigils on WilkesBarre Public Square early last year to protest the coming war. “The first step in taking action as an individual is to make a difference in something you care about,” says Stefanovich, 20. “A lot of my friends tell me to just give up, that I can’t make a difference. But if I have that attitude, I won’t.”

As a self-described “poet for peace,” Jim Spak attended numerous local and national protest over the years. “A lot of people are dying because of the misguided policies of our government,” says Spak, 52, of Wilkes-Barre.
“Unfortunately, too many of our leaders are concerned with money and power instead of doing what’s right. We need to change that.”

Dallas resident Corey Blauch said a recent experience in Brazil prompted his attendance at the rally. “I was at a tourist spot where there were people from all over the world and someone was asking where everybody was from and when they got to America, everyone booed” says Blauch, 26, a mechanical engineer. “It made me realize what the rest of the world thinks of us.”

College Misericordia history professor Margaret Puskar-Pasewicz attended numerous protests in New York and Washington, D.C., before the war began and she continues to add her voice to the chorus of protest. “If the war goes unchallenged, it gives our government permission to proceed. Iraq is still occupied. U.S soldiers are still dying. The Iraqi people are still dying. Clearly, our voices need to be heard.”

For 49-year-old Victoria Ross, it all comes down to one simple tenant: Violence begets violence. “It’s no accident that many people involved in the peace movement are people of the cloth, people who work with people and people who have experienced war first-hand,” says Ross, a social worker from Hopbottom. “If we had armies for peace, think what we could accomplish.”


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