By: Daniela Forte
"BETHLEHEM-They have stood quietly on the Bethlehem Green every Sunday since 2002. Some have held signs, while others allow their very beings to represent a protest against the war in Iraq and violence in general. If the Bethlehem Peace Watch has spread an underlying message over the course of five years and some 260 Sundays, it might be that wars come and go but peace should be forever.
"We are witness to the possibility that something can be accomplished without violence and with communication, and periodically share information about subjects that are directly related to this conflict and the whole idea of peace and justice," said member Maureen McDermott. According to Ms. McDermott, the group has about 11 core members and four to five of them are present every Sunday. During special events, particularly around the holidays, the group has had 40 people show up and bear witness to the horrors of war and possibilities of peace. "For myself, I have no objection standing solo, but it certainly does become more encouraging and more motivational when there are others that are joined with the same general purpose," said Ms. McDermott.
The group's founder, Al Avitabile, said that since the beginning of time humans have sought to resolve conflict by engaging in warfare. In the 21st century, he believes that all religious and educational institutions should be working to move nations away from resolving conflict by engaging in warfare."It seems inevitable, either by accident or by design, [that war] is going to end this planet as we know it ... ," said Mr. Avitabile. "We should never have gone [into Iraq] and it's like old history. It was sold on false premises; there were no weapons of mass destruction."Mr. Avitabile has been a resident of Bethlehem for 42 years and was raised in Waterbury. This is not his first protest. During the Vietnam War, he was an activist. A retired University of Connecticut biologist, Mr. Avitable has for 17 years owned Columbine Gardens greenhouse in Bethlehem.
According to Bethlehem Peace Watch member Tim MacSweeney of Woodbury, his reasons for being a part of the group were simple-he wanted to exercise his right to stand up and say he opposed the war, and to underscore the argument that it is not a solution to any of the country's problems. "My best and most selfish reason is (that) my nephew (Lucas) is in Iraq right now. I want him home and I want him with his family," said Mr. MacSweeney. "I take comfort [in being] with people who feel the same way who aren't afraid to voice their opinion."
"To fight terror you need plenty of intelligence, which involves money, but you do not need mass killings to win the war on terror," said peace watch member Eva Gierat. Ms. Gierat is a Polish immigrant who came to the United States in 1951. She is an active member of the Friends of the Bethlehem Library and the senior citizens group. She has contributed to charities such as Amnesty International, a world-wide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights. She has also been active in Covenant House International, which provides shelters and other services for homeless and runaway children.
The peace group has recently begun a blog through which people may communicate their thoughts on the war and on violence in general. The site also consists of various links to different charities and organizations and has been up and running for just a week. The online address is www.bethlehempeacewatch.blogspot.com. Beginning in January, the group will meet the first Sunday of every month instead of every Sunday."
©Litchfield County Times 2007