With so many calling for war, some Richmonders strive to reconcile peace with patriotism. 

Peace? Nix.

Dave Depp recalls clearly what the well-dressed woman said when he offered her a leaflet.

"Get that liberal s— out of my face," he repeats slowly.

To Depp, the brochure's message wasn't anything too radical. It recommended simply that America should seek to end the cycle of violence, he says, and advocated peaceful dialogue, not bombs, as a response to terrorism.

It's not a message many want to hear right now.

"We were told to join the Taliban by one car that passed by," says Depp, a board member of the Richmond Center for Peace Education and one of the demonstrators who have been gathering outside the Federal Building every Monday at noon.

Other drivers just honk. "You're not sure if they're positive or negative, or what they're signaling," he says.

One thing is for sure: Pacifism is unpopular. "It's a lonely time for someone who's questioning the direction [America is] moving," Depp says.

He's not angry, just weary — as are most advocates of peace in Richmond these days.

Before Sept. 11 turned minds toward war, few would even listen to activists' warnings that America's worldview needed revision.

Now people listen. But few react sympathetically. During demonstrations, about one in every three or four pedestrians takes the leaflets he passes out, Depp says. Most avert their eyes. Many respond in "hostile, nasty" ways, he says.

"It's not like they read it and then get angry," Depp says. "There hasn't been much dialogue."

The small weekly protests, which began Oct. 8, may be the only visible sign of local opposition to military action in Afghanistan. Many pacifists say they're reluctant to offer their views to other people unasked.

"I don't think that helps," says Anne J. Gray. She's a Quaker and a member of the Richmond Friends Meeting, a group which is traditionally pacifist, yet refrains from making political statements. She'd gladly talk to someone who approached her, she says, but wouldn't force her beliefs on anyone.

Ken Willis, executive director of the Richmond Peace Education Center, believes "We always feel that we have an obligation to speak up."

"I do it sort of indirectly," Willis says, by preaching peace in sermons, newsletters and workshops.

Yet even a conciliatory approach can provoke anger when he tries to talk about why terrorism happens, he says.

Here's the big-risk statement, according to Willis: "You have to understand the frustration that would drive someone to do that,'" he says of the terrorists. "Something has driven them to extremes."

Yet "people are not very receptive to that idea," he says with resignation. Many think holding vigils and protests aren't patriotic things to do.

But Depp asks, Why is violence patriotic? True patriotism, he says, means understanding the United States' place in the world, not blindly supporting the government.

"I just resent the whole notion that if you do things differently, you're not patriotic," he says.

Other peace activists don't care whether they have been labeled as unpatriotic.

"I'm sure that accusation has been leveled," says Sue Frankel-Streit. She and her family are members of the "Christian, pacifist, anarchist" Little Flower Catholic Worker Community in Goochland and have taken part in vigils and protests.

And she's unafraid to say she feels no allegiance to the United States. Behind her, eight heads at the community breakfast table nod in agreement.

Anne Gray recalls someone once asking her, "Are Quakers patriotic?"

"I'm not sure what patriotic means," she says she replied. "Yes, I love my country, but I don't think it's infallible."

She hates hearing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" playing everywhere, she says. "They talk about God and his terrible swift sword."

Willis, of the Peace Education Center, finds a better message in another anthem — "America the Beautiful."

Just listen to it, he says. Especially the lesser-known second stanza: "America! America! God mend thine every flaw / Confirm thy soul in self-control/ Thy liberty in law!"

"We would hope the country might exercise some self-control," Willis says. But he doesn't sound too optimistic.

The future of the peace movement itself may be looking up, however. Willis and Frankel-Streit say they've seen many young people joining the protests and organizations like Food Not Bombs. Richmond's various peace groups have found themselves drawing together as well, Frankel-Streit says. A vigil at the Times-Dispatch, followed by a march to the Pace Center on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, is planned for Oct. 27.

And getting Americans to think about peace may not be as difficult as it seems, Depp says.

A few days ago a truck driver, accompanied by his wife, stopped by Depp's house to deliver some gravel he'd ordered. The three paused for a moment to breathe the autumn air, Depp recalls, and he remarked how glorious the day was.

"It's certainly been a crazy time in this world," Depp said. "It's nice to have a peaceful day" — or just one moment of peace, when violence is erupting on the other side of the globe.

The couple nodded, he says, and seemed to agree.

"These are just a truck driver and his wife," Depp says with a hint of awe in his voice. But that's how change would begin, he says — if each American simply stopped and thought about peace.


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