Though we islanders may be isolated from much of the rest of the world, we are not immune to the politics and controversies that affect our nation. Lately this means differing opinions on the impending war with Iraq. Here on Vinalhaven, residents have had no trouble making their opinions known.
Each Saturday since Feb. 15, people have been invited to “stand for peace and reconciliation” on the Mill Race bridge in town. The standing-in began in support of a worldwide effort to bring attention to the issue. Standing on bridges has been a practice particularly observed in Maine.
“All the people who died in wars before this died for these rights and privileges that we’re exercising,” said Cheryl Lindgren, one of the approximately 12 people standing on the bridge on March 15.
“I am thoroughly disgusted with the policy of the U.S. in the Middle East. The world can no longer afford war of any kind and the sooner we realize this the better,” said Carl Engelhart, voicing one of the stronger opinions in the group.
Most of the people on the bridge agreed that there are ways of being against Saddam Hussein without putting troops in danger, and all voiced opinions supporting U.S. troops overseas.
“We don’t want to offend,” said Colleen Conlan. “That’s the hardest thing – to voice your opinion without offending your neighbor.” Despite that difficulty, or perhaps because of it, she felt it “affirming to be with people who feel the same,” and many others agreed.
“The most important thing is for dialogue to open between people with different ideas. [The issue] is not black and white,” commented Margaret Nugent.
The story was slightly different on the other side of the street where people have been standing on Saturday mornings in support of war in Iraq, and in support of U.S. troops.
“We are here mostly to support the service men. They had to go. They didn’t want to go any more than we wanted them to,” said Annette Philbrook.
“I’m standing in honor of my father because he served in World War II, and he had three brothers who served in Korea and Vietnam,” said Joan Philbrook. “Nobody really wants war, but sometimes it’s inevitable,” she said.
In addition to standing-in, islanders have been exercising their freedom of speech in other ways as well. At press time three letters had been published in the island news weekly, “The Wind,” voicing opinions both for and against a war in Iraq, as well as opinions for and against protesters. Perhaps the most colorful display of opinion is a huge peace sign, painted in neon colors and hung outside the home of Magnus Lane and his son Pal. Pal’s wife is in the military and he hopes for her safe return home soon.
Despite differences in opinion about war, all voices have one thing in common. “[Voicing your opinion] is what America is all about,” said Annette Philbrook. “It doesn’t make me right, it doesn’t make them right,” she continued, referring to those standing on the bridge. “We all still hope [the conflict] can be settled peacefully.”