Silent Peace Vigil Committee

Plowshare sponsors a peace vigil about the Iraq War every third Saturday of the month in front of the City Market Building, Campbell Avenue and Market Street, between noon and 1 PM.  People stand for an hour of silence with respectful signs.  Volunteers hand out flyers listing the current casualties and costs of the war.  (Flyer is listed on the Iraq War Casualties page).  Passersby often join us.  Most people who see us are supportive.

A Plowshare committee organizes the peace vigil.  If you would like to join the committee, please contact Mike Bentley at 389-3752 or
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January 8, 2012

Letters to the Editor

The Roanoke Times

P.O. Box 2491

Roanoke, VA24010

To the  Editor:

Plowshare Peace and Justice  Center, which began as an interfaith group responding to an earlier war, will  celebrate its 40th anniversary next year. Over the years Plowshare  people have gathered in public places to bear silent witness to what we consider  unnecessary and/or unjust state-sponsored wars, occupations, executions,  renditions, tortures, extractions and so forth. We don’t want these things to be  done in our name or paid for with our tax dollars. Venues for such Plowshare  events have varied (one was along the Roanoke River where candles were floated  to remember the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), but primarily we have held our  vigils on the Campbell Avenue sidewalk in front of our historic Market  Building.

During our recent litigation with  the City and the newly-constituted Market Foundation we asked Plowshare old  timers if they could help document early Plowshare actions. I am an old-timer  myself and resumed involvement when I retired. Susie Fetter recalled assemblies  in the 1980s protesting the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA. The SOA,  for example, trained the El Salvadoran military that brutalize thousands and  murdered Archbishop Romero during Mass. The Rev. Gene Edmunds also remembers  vigils against the death penalty. My involvement with the current peace vigils  began soon after Plowshare Executive Director Gary Sandman initiated them in  2005. These vigils commemorate the dead and wounded and the wasted tax revenues  resulting from the wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gaza.  Participation in vigils varies but is typically 15 to 25.

Last September the Market  Building Foundation, which now leases and oversees Market Building operations,  refused to allow Plowshare to resume holding vigils on its sidewalk, and, along  with the City, asked us to continue our vigils on Church Avenue where we had  been during the Market renovations or at another less visible site on Campbell  Avenue. However, our vigils on the  sidewalk in front of the Market building never interfered with outdoor dining on  the sides of the building, nor will they interfere with dining on the front  sidewalk. The past six years of commemorations have been silent and peaceful,  always complying with the terms of City-issued assembly permits. We have never  obstructed the entrance to the Market Building, blocked the sidewalk, or impeded  commerce.

Plowshare’s reluctant decision to  file suit to regain the Market Building sidewalk’s status as a traditional  public forum came only after months of phone calls, emails, and meetings with  the Market Foundation failed to reverse the ban. Plowshare engaged attorney John  Fishwick and asked Federal District Court for an injunction that would allow us  back on the site. Our contention was that the City should not yield its  permitting authority to a private party when the public’s constitutional right  to speak on a public sidewalk was at stake, particularly considering the long  history of the site being used in that manner. We had our day in court on Dec.  16th, where City and Foundation lawyers asked the court to dismiss  our case, claiming, “Plowshare overestimates its First Amendment rights”.

Plowshare considers that the wars  and occupations that are the subject of our vigils have led to the public debt  and economic woes our country is now experiencing. A recent Brown University  study has found that U.S. interventions since the 9/11 attacks will cost $4.4  trillion, including projected spending on wounded veterans through 2051. “An  extremely conservative estimate” of the casualty toll was 225,000 killed and  365,000 wounded. We believe the public should know this, that it is very  important for dissent to be visible, and that people should be allowed to  assemble at a site where they can be seen and heard (or bear witness in  silence).

Plowshare also wants the Market  vendors to be successful. We believe that our noon-to-one o’clock vigils on the  third Saturdays of the month have brought people downtown who would not  otherwise have come, many of whom shop at the farmers’ stalls and buy lunch from  the Market building vendors. We believe our vigil enhances the ambience of  Market Square. Market-goers often show delight when they see us and express  their support.

We are grateful for the public  support that we received in this effort and that our 1st Amendment  rights were restored. Our next vigil is from noon to 1:00 pm on January  21st. You are invited to join us on the 3rd Saturday of  each month and spend an hour in peaceful contemplation of the terrible losses of  lives and money resulting from U.S. wars and occupations.


Michael L. Bentley, EdD, Chair,  Peace Vigil Committee, Plowshare Peace and Justice Center

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