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Pacifist 'People in Black' Deliver Silent Message Against Violence

Opinion: Ojai group, modeled on Israel's Women in Black, gathers for weekly vigils to protest terrorism and the U.S. war against it.

January 25, 2002|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They gather at dusk in downtown Ojai, carrying candles and standing in silence. Cars pass, people stare and someone shouts, "Get a life!" but nobody flinches.

It's been like this every Friday since the United States began bombing Afghanistan--when a group of pacifists calling themselves People in Black launched its silent vigil for peace.

They aren't interested in discussing the merits of war or the causes of terrorism. When someone approaches, they silently hand over a slim flier explaining their motives: that they mourn for victims of violence anywhere and stand in silent contemplation of peace everywhere.

"A lot of people felt powerless after Sept. 11 to express nonviolent views," said Carol Wade, 48, of Ojai, one of the 15 to 30 regulars. "It's interesting to watch people as they drive by. You see people with thoughtful expressions on their face. If we get them thinking, then we've accomplished something."

People in Black is patterned after Women in Black, which began in Israel in 1988 and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last year. That organization held silent vigils against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Similar organizations formed in places such as Yugoslavia, Britain and Argentina to protest war, rape as a tool of war, ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses.

In Ojai, the idea came to 51-year-old Annat Provo while she was having dinner with friends. As pacifists, they condemned both the terrorist attacks and the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, and were looking for a quiet way to register dissent without provoking arguments or endless debate.

Provo, originally from Israel, suggested adopting the Women in Black model but expanding it to include men.

"The visual of women dressed in black and not speaking was very powerful," she said. "We don't carry placards; we don't try to engage people in arguments. People who come say they like the chance to be quiet and to think about this."

Karen McAuley said she comes every Friday to "be a witness."

"We need to publicly grieve for victims of violence," said the 57-year-old Ojai woman. "It's important to be there in public saying that you care."

About 16 people, mostly women, stood in front of Libbey Park facing busy Ojai Avenue last Friday. Cars crept past. Some honked support. One man shouted, "Bush! Bush! Bush!" Another screamed, "Hey, what are you staring at?"

No one spoke until the vigil broke up 45 minutes after it began.

"It's probably an individual reason why everyone is here," said Carol Grier, 51, of Ojai. "It's more of a personal statement, saying, 'I want to stand up and be counted.' Since Sept. 11, there has been a fear in the liberal community to speak out. War is not the answer. We won't get anywhere blowing off the legs of little kids."

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