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Originally published Friday, December 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

A corner on public vigilance

For years I've been driving loads of dry cleaning, overdue books and groceries past the Lake Forest Park for Peace vigils on Saturday mornings...

For years I've been driving loads of dry cleaning, overdue books and groceries past the Lake Forest Park for Peace vigils on Saturday mornings at Ballinger and Bothell ways.

Last weekend, Christmas Eve, I finally stopped.

Two weeks earlier, the group had passed the three-year mark. Every Saturday since Dec. 14, 2002, a hardy band of strangers turned friends and family has stood at the intersection of personal conscience and public scrutiny to protest the war in Iraq.

This is a busy corner. The peace vigil holds forth from 11 a.m. to noon. A grassy, triangular traffic divider is covered with hundreds of white crosses. A coffin-shaped box draped with a U.S. flag sits on two sawhorses next to a painted sign with the number 2,163. By midweek that tally is out of date. Two Mahayana Buddhist monks from Bainbridge Island beat on drums and three dozen people line the curb holding signs aloft as heavy traffic pours by.

So it's been, through rain and sunshine, thumbs up and honking horns of support, menacing drivers and migratory flights of middle fingers.

One of the things I strongly admire about the vigils is the pure tenacity of the endeavor. They show up. A small, determined witness to a big problem.

They gather for a half hour or so before the vigil in a community room of the Third Place Commons in the Lake Forest Park Towne Centre. Lots of banter, laughter and coming events with Puget Sound peace groups. The essence, however, is what happens outside.

Ann Buzaid of Lake Forest Park, a founder, has seen the turnout top 100 and remembers when it trickled below 20 after the war started. As the insurgency stiffened, attendance rebounded. Still, there is burnout and frustration over whether anything is being accomplished.

Public reaction ebbs and flows. In the past year, Rodney Brunelle of Kenmore has seen "a joyous response to the group's presence," but at the same time, the negative reaction is really angry.

Tenacity means developing a working relationship with local police, staying out of the road, and maybe having the drummers take a break. City Hall is right behind the protest line. It also means tolerating the occasional signs that hover between pointed commentary and bad taste.

As a group, they want the war to end, and the troops out of harm's way. They want the executive branch to the tell the truth and Congress to do its job. But the broader politics are all over the map. Some are pacifists, and others pointedly say they are not. Some loathe President Bush and others say they hate the war, not the president. They know their critics embrace the easy slander that opposition to the war translates to not supporting the troops.

The 2004 election season gave everyone fits because the hard core did not want the vigils turned into partisan events. Still the John Kerry signs appeared, then disappeared along with the candidate. The vigils chugged ahead.

The other quality I admire about the vigils is the inability to easily label the participants. I suspect there is a higher ratio of veterans in the group than at the White House. Don't try to stereotype John Makey of Mountlake Terrace, a 75-year-old veteran of the Korean War. He spent a career working for the forerunner of FEMA, planning for the aftermath of mutually assured destruction during the Cold War.

The vigils attracted Selma Bonham, 80, of Mill Creek and Seamus McKeon and Kenny Newton, two members of the Shorecrest Peace Club at Shorecrest High School.

For another perspective, arrive an hour earlier. A handful of people show the colors for the Bush administration and the war from 9 to 11 a.m. They stayed long after an early counter-demonstration to the peace vigils organized by KVI radio. Turnout tanked along with talk-show ratings.

One of the faithful is Don Quale, a veteran of three tours in Vietnam. He strongly believes those "not supporting the president and administration are in fact not supporting the troops." He credits some of the protesters with being "truly anti-war, but the majority of the rest of them are Bush haters."

Tension has sparked between the two sides, but there is evident respect between individuals with strong points of view. Quale and a peace-vigil stalwart share a few words and a hug as one shift ends and another begins.

Both groups of sign wavers represent America at its best. In a time of diminished social connection, they show up to tweak the consciousness of those who would only be thinking about Saturday errands.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com

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