May 23, 2018
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Peace protesters hold weekly vigil in Belfast

Members of the Waldo County Peace & Justice group including (from left) Meredith Briskin, Andrew Watkins, Jim Merkel, Susan Cutting and Miriam Watkins stand on the corners of Main and High Streets for an hour on Sunday afternoon, April 4, 2010, as many of them have done for nearly 10 years, to discourage the U.S.-led wars in the Middle East and military spending. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY BRIDGET BROWN
By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Carrying peace signs and wearing sunglasses, inciting honks and a couple of shouted drive-by conversations, a handful of people took their post at the corner of High and Main streets Sunday to protest war.

It’s what they have been doing every week — rain, snow or shine — since October 2001, when the first American bombs fell on Afghanistan.

“We are here because the government is not responsive to the people,” said Cathy Minke of Waldo. “So the people have to go into the streets to educate the public to become activists.”

Minke is a member of the Waldo County Peace and Justice group, and has picketed the corner — located at the center of town across from Alexia’s Pizza and not far from the Colonial Theatre — most Sundays for the last 8½ years.

It has been a long slog, and the group has seen members come and go. Some have died, and others have had children who have grown up promoting peace.

Meredith Bruskin of Swanville, who had an Easter lily tucked into her buttonhole, said one little activist began “in utero” as her mother demonstrated on the corner, and has grown to be 7 years old.

“We’re aging together,” Bruskin said. “This is a very dear group to me. It’s a truthful time of the week, and it feels like we’re standing for something.”

There have been moments, especially in the first months, that the peace activists felt that they were less accepted by passers-by.

“People were hollering ‘Get a job, commie!’” in 2001, Minke recalled.

Some would make impolite hand gestures or wave the American flag at them in a belligerent manner.

“Now, it’s totally changed. People have definitely changed,” she said. “They are telling us, ‘Great.’”

As the activists spoke, they held up a variety of signs and a big, brightly colored peace flag. The Sunday afternoon traffic was sparse, but some motorists gave a quick honk. A few pedestrians posed for a photo with the group.

Phyllis Coelho of Belfast said her hope is to educate “just a few” people who pass by.

“The war is still happening,” she said. “It has not ended.”

Miriam Watkins of Belfast said protesting at the peace vigil is better than doing nothing.

“It’s like a dedication,” she said, explaining why she comes out in all sorts of weather. “It’s my church.”

Susan Cutting of Belfast held her 3½-month-old infant, Walden Cutting, swaddled close. She took a long view of American military spending and endeavors.

“What kind of life is he going to have, if we’re still spending money on war?” she asked. “What’s going to be left for him?”

Walden’s dad, Jim Merkel of Belfast, said attending the Sunday peace vigil is on his calendar “every week.” He also said that in the 1980s, he was a Young Republican and an arms dealer, and used to meet with foreign governments.

“I thought missiles were peace,” he said.

Now, things have changed for him, and the birth of his son has only made his new convictions stronger.

“It just makes me more committed to have a better world for him,” Merkel said. “I hope he doesn’t have to be out on the protest lines.”

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