Names of U.S.-Iraq war dead in Bohemia Park in Cottage Grove. Birdy Hoelzle/Photo

COTTAGE GROVE — “Stand for Peace” has been a part of the Cottage Grove scene nearly two decades now. You have seen the rainbow Peace/Pace flags being waved. Signs with slogans, some generic like “No Justice, No Peace,” others more topical in tune with the news of the day that define the perimeter of Opal Whiteley/All American Square.

Dedicated volunteers have been holding the space since the run up to the second Gulf War. Scott Burgwin was the founder and principal organizer for the group’s first decade. “We started on the first Sunday in December in 2002. There has been a number of dedicated people over the years, but the dedication varies. Many people want immediate results and that doesn’t seem to be the case when working for peace. So our numbers have fluctuated over the years.” 

Some faces have come and gone, some have passed away, age has robbed some of the ability to physically participate, but still the need is there and people still show up.  

David Zuban, part of the Eugene PeaceWorks, believes the Cottage Grove action is the longest-running continuous action for peace in Oregon. Eugene PeaceWorks is an autonomous group that grew out of the loose organization, Oregon Peace Works, that helped local peace activist groups communicate and support each other’s actions. He came to Cottage Grove for the large action of remembering victims of the war. “It was unusually dramatic to see all the banners with the names. A father who had lost his son was one of the speakers and he delivered one of the most powerful messages I have ever witnessed,” Zupan said.

There have been flashpoints in our culture that have brought additional energy to the action. For instance during the “Occupy Wall Street” movement some new blood took a stand with the peace “matriots” and took a hand in messaging and directing actions. As the Occupy movement faded, things settled back into the universal calling for a world where we settle our differences in a peaceful manner.

Seeing the action for peace has influenced people considering settling in the area to commit to move to Cottage Grove. I know it confirmed for me in 2012 that I was joining a community that supported many viewpoints and could coexist civilly together.

For many years, there was a Sunday evening candlelight vigil where the names of victims of war were read. This included American soldiers and Iraqi civilians; the so-called “collateral damage.” It was a moving, solemn occasion that reminded the participants that war casualties are not just a number, but a name, a face, a family member. At the conclusion of that week’s calling out of the names a gong was rung to consign the message to the heavens. Members recall the feeling of this ritual as cathartic, healing, and good. Members often joined in a potluck afterward to reflect on their work and make plans.

“Stand for Peace” members gather for a demonstration in Bohemia Park on a rainy day. Birdy Hoelzle/Photo

Another way “Stand for Peace” demonstrated the price of war was made was making banners that had the names of the war dead. On the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion in 2003, volunteers came from all over Oregon and helped hold the banners of names from Cottage Grove High School to Opal Park. Over a thousand participated in the action, intent on making an impression for peace in a small town, rather than being lost in the hustle of a big city. The banners were tied together and strung back and forth in the park, making a powerful statement as the names waved in the breeze.

On the second anniversary, 2004, “Stand for Peace” collected postcards signed by citizens who opposed sending the Oregon National Guard into the war zone. The activists felt this was not the purpose of the Guard and it was not what they had signed up for. Further it meant that Oregon’s National Guard units would not be available to assist Oregonians in time of need. At that time a division of the National Guard was stationed at Cottage Grove Armory, and was deployed from there. There was friendly interaction with the Guardsmen and the activists, who delivered paper “purple hearts’’ to them hoping that those would be the only ones members of the Guard received. 

After collecting thousands of signatures, a large group of peace activists walked from Cottage Grove to the Federal Building in Eugene to deliver the signed postcards to Representative DeFazio’s office. The Group followed Highway 99 and took two days to make the journey, stopping in Creswell for a rally and resting there before heading into Eugene the next day. A member volunteered his motor home, which followed the walkers providing a portable bathroom as it was needed.

Lois Inmann, who has been with the group since its beginning, was distraught over the group’s reception on reaching the Courthouse. “We were not welcomed, but subjected to excessive measures. Homeland Security met up and stated we needed a permit. They wouldn’t let anybody in who didn’t have an ID. To me it was an outrage that peaceful U.S. citizens and taxpayers would be treated this way trying to enter a public building and participate in the democratic process.”

The Stand for Peace group in Cottage Grove would go stand with other local groups who were also expressing their opposition to war and killing. Members went to Oakridge, Drain, Creswell and once to Yoncalla. Members from these groups would conversely come to participate with the Cottage Grove group.

Once the Iraq invasion started, some group members worried what the reactions would be once the troops were endangered in the conflict. They still maintained their stand for peace. “There were thumbs up and honks, but some negativity as well. We saw some frowns, middle fingers, and an occasional angry engine rev. Once during the candle vigil, a car deliberately drove into the sign inviting people to join the remembrance. But this sort of reaction tapered off over time,” Inmann said.

It has always mystified me why petitioning for peace is viewed as unpatriotic and not supporting the troops. Seems like keeping them out of harm’s way is the best possible way of supporting our servicemen and women. Too often in our history their sacrifices have been for a questionable outcome. I want to point out that this is my own interjection and I am not speaking for the “Stand for Peace” group.”

The “Stand for Peace” group has had booths at Bohemia Mining Days. Their spin-the-wheel game educated the public and it notoriously turned out that everyone was a winner and walked away with some “peace bling.” One time a little boy who was so excited to win, had to bring it back, explaining his Dad wouldn’t let him keep it,” recalled a volunteer sadly.

Lois Inmann has been working all of her adult life for peace in our lifetimes. “In Vietnam I thought that if we had done it, there would be no more wars. But I found myself continuing that work. I feel I need to be doing something and so I do what I can. There can be no peace without justice, that is my main focus.”

Another stalwart stander is Nancy McCollum. She picked up the mantle in 2002 and has been out on Fridays ever since. “It became a habit, a ritual putting out the signs and getting the flags stored over the week at the Bookmine.” As new issues came up the members would make additional signs. “We would have signmaking parties periodically as the need and situations changed. We tried to always be current,” McCollum said.

McCollum pointed out that they have had signs for “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Trayvon (Martin)” for several years now but they attracted little notice. “I am encouraged and excited to see the participants who came out and held a vigil with us for Black Lives. I was, of course, very sad about the spark that led to this.”

This statement comes from Cottage Grove Community United, the local group that called for a Peaceful Vigil for Black Lives:

“Cottage Grove Community United has joined the demonstrations at Opal Whiteley Park in support of the Movement for Black Lives. In 2020, black people are still being brutally murdered by police. They are dying from Covid-19 at a disproportionate rate due to continued inequities in healthcare, education, housing and access to nutritious food. We want the community of Cottage Grove to know that many, many community members stand for justice and against white supremacy.

With just a half day’s notice for the first vigil (May, 29, 2020), there were upwards of 50 people with signs peacefully protesting the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. More than 150 people showed up for the second vigil the following Friday.

“CGCU is a group of community members who have worked together for two years to build a stronger and safer community for all, centering on racial equity. We are a multiracial group made up of teachers, students, business owners, service providers, and passionate volunteers who have called Cottage Grove home for years.”

“We are honored to share the space with the folks of “Stand for Peace” who’ve held weekly peace vigils for decades.”

The next time you go by the All American Square/Opal Park, won’t you give a little beep of the horn for peace, justice, or whatever it is that makes you feel right. We may not all agree on everything, but I hope you agree that each of us has the right to stand for what we believe in and be allowed to do that in peace. Thank you for all of those who have stood in all kinds of weather for all these years for the greater good.

Contact Dana at [email protected]