ITHACA, N.Y.—If you’ve driven past the intersection of South Fulton, South Meadow and Clinton Streets between 10 and 11 a.m. on a Saturday over the past 20 years, there’s a decent chance that you’ve seen small groups of individuals holding signs and flags with pro-peace phrases on them like “War creates terror,” “Was war the answer?” and “Ground the drones, end the wars,” among others.
The group is made up of Ithaca Catholic Workers (ICW), who “remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken,” according to their website.
Garry Thomas, an ICW member, said the Saturday peace vigil began sometime between 2001 and 2003, and has continued throughout its 20 years almost every Saturday since then.
Though the group is fairly small, its members have been dedicated to their weekend tradition. Thomas said that over the past year, presumably due to the increased attention on the wartime in Ukraine, more and more support has been honked, nodded or waved to the workers during the hours spent on the median.
“One man in a truck yelled ‘You can’t stop wars,’” Thomas said. “We asked him ‘Why can’t you stop wars?’ and he replied ‘Because people are f*cking morons.’”
Thomas said that, as a Quaker, it was important to him to be recognized as a conscientious objector since he was a young adult, adding that “once a conscientious objector, you’re a conscientious objector for life, and I feel an obligation to be a pacifist presence and join anti-military vigils and protests whenever I can.”
“We are convinced that having a weekly vigil at the same place, year after year for 20 years, makes visible to the public the pacifist alternative,” Thomas said.
Teaching at then-Oswego State University (now SUNY Oswego), Thomas recalled students greeting each other in class the morning after a draft. “I can remember the day when male students in my class came in and greeted each other with a greeting you’d never heard before, and that was ‘What was your number?’ And they were referring to their draft number,” he said.
Once the military draft was eliminated in the 1970s, Thomas said, and he believes there’s less of a movement of people opposed to the military, which is another reason the ICW believe it’s important to continue their Saturday morning peace vigils. Thomas added the demonstrations are open to all who wish to join or even just stop by and talk.