Pittsfield peace vigil marks decade

Gordon Dunham holds signs and motions for vehicles to honk for peace across from Park Square. Dunham plays Uncle Sam in Pittsfield’s Fourth of July Parade.

PITTSFIELD -- Rain or shine, frostbite or sunburn, the Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice's vigil is a staple to Thursday's evening commute in downtown Pittsfield.

This October marks the decadelong demonstration of the vigil, where community members stand on the sidewalk at Park Square and hold signs calling for peace, not war.

"The first year we were out here, we told the police we'd be here," Marion Lathrop said. "We didn't tell them we'd be here every Thursday for the rest of our lives."

Oct. 3, 2002 marked the first vigil, which was in response to the impending Iraq war. Don and Marion Lathrop, who organized Berkshire Community College's Global Issues Resource Organization (GIRO), was approached by a resident with the idea.

Since Oct. 17, 2002, not a Thursday has gone by that at least one person has been in the Park Square vicinity.

Despite the Iraq war being over, there's still a cause to rally for peace, Marion Lathrop said.

"Peace is not just an absence of war," she said. "Do we have peace in Pittsfield? People are mugged, beaten. That's not peace."

The Lathrops, who live in Canaan, N.Y., have kept the tradition, despite Don Lathrop being retired and in his 70s. Whereas the first two vigils saw attendance in the mid-50s, there were about a dozen at the Thursday's, which was held exactly one day after the 10-year anniversary of the first vigil.

"We started this to try to keep the war from starting," Don Lathrop said. "We could save the world if we didn't spend as much on the war."

Thursday's gross weather was a testament to the vigil's push for peace. It was raining, producing a cold shiver in some underneath their umbrellas. The reception from passersby drivers was warm, though -- there was constant, friendly honks of the horn as people drove by. Marion Lathrop would wave back.

"It's great," she said. "A lot of people will hold up peace signs back, although occasionally people will hold up just the middle finger."

Park Square has gone over a make-over throughout the years, but Marion said the area as is makes for a great place to demonstrate.

Looking exiled on his own island of land separated between the crosswalks from North and East streets, Pittsfield resident Gordon Dunham -- Uncle Sam in the Pittsfield Fourth of July parade -- stood in a yellow rain coat, waving and even motioning some of the larger commercial vehicles to honk.

"I love when the big 12-wheel trucks honk at us," Dunham said after one did just that. "They're so loud."

Dunham has been at every vigil since the beginning, he said. That means he's endured extreme weather conditions, and had a plan for every Thanksgiving evening.

"I've had more honks over the years," Dunham said. "Some think what I'm doing is great. Others think I'm crazy for being out here every Thursday. There's truth to both sides of that."

The vigil ended with all in attendance huddling around the tree in the center of Park Square. Without any religious affiliation, the reflection was led non-denominationally by Marion Lathrop on those lost on both sides of any war, or those lost or injured to related famine and destruction.

Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice hold regular meetings at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield, 175 Wendell Ave., from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. In addition to the vigils, the organization also organizes bus trips to demonstrate in Washington, D.C., local public service, and showing education films every second, fourth and fifth Thursdays of the month.

To reach Adam Poulisse:


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On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse