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
January 8, 2012
Letters to the Editor
P.O. Box 2491
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