© copyright 2008 Betsy L. Angert
“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Toiled ever upward through the night.”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Peace comes upon us without much fanfare. Most await an announcement or seek a moment of resolve. However, the message never comes. In this country, in our local communities, and perchance planet wide, a small number of people acknowledge goodwill is not created in an instant. It grows. The transition from warfare to common welfare is invisible. Tranquility enters; and no one stands triumphantly. Buglers do not blow their horns. Twenty-one guns do not salute. Serenity is a state of being. This is true for individuals and for the world as a whole. Harmony, once achieved will be but a hush. Peace grows as a tree does, from the roots up.
Those who stand at the Boca Peace Corner are among those who understand this. They experience an evolution every Saturday between noon and one. That is the time these devoted “gardeners” dedicate to growing an end to war.
The persons who espouse peace at the crossroads of Saint Andrews Boulevard and Glades Road are aware that the process is slow; the progression slower. They appreciate a shift may not be seen, but it is nevertheless palpable. Stories from grassroots activists in the Boca Raton area affirm calmness quietly creeps into existence.
The weekly South Florida vigil began with a Mom, or perhaps two. The shared stories of Cindy Sheehan and Susan Caruso offer insight into how unity evolves. Each of these mothers can attest to the fact, an intangible such as love [or harmony with our fellow humans] is felt. The bond between a parent and a child, Casey and Cindy or Susan and her sons, is as imperceptible as growth.
For local Mom, Susan Caruso, in August 2005 she decided to take an active stand against the war in Iraq. With the stroke of her hand and the click of a mouse, Ms Caruso planted the seed that gave birth to the Boca Peace Corner. The afternoon was no different than most others. Susan had read and heard of Cindy Sheehan and the soldier’s Mom’s cries. Sheehan, an average American mother, was much like Susan. Each had sons. Ms Caruso has two male children. At the time, they were ages 20 and 24. Cindy Sheehan had a grown child named Casey. He was 24 years old when he departed from this Earth. Casey Sheehan passed two weeks after he arrived in Iraq. The young Army specialist was killed in battle in 2004.
By 2005, Ms Sheehan was frustrated. Cindy Sheehan read the belatedly released Intelligence reports. She learned that perhaps, her son did not need to die. The fallen enlistee’s parent felt a need to speak to the man she believed most responsible for her loss. Yet, George W. Bush, the Commander-In-Chief, was not willing to meet with this mournful Mom. Apparently, it mattered not that Casey Sheehan sacrificed his life for his country, for the homeland the Chief Officer also inhabits. George W. Bush was busy.
After many attempts to arrange a meeting, Casey’s Mom decided she would campout at the President’s ranch in Crawford Texas and wait for him to come to her, or perhaps invite her in. Mister Bush did neither.
It seemed the nation’s most Senior Officer could not be bothered with niceties while on holiday. As news of such a circumstance spread throughout the country, Americans began to question the President and his priorities. MoveOn.org did more than inquire; they requested that common people from every region stand in support of a Casey’s Mom.
Susan Caruso decided she must do so. The empathy she felt for Cindy Sheehan was great. The antipathy for the war may not have been greater; nevertheless, it was intense. Susan Caruso signed up to sponsor a peace vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Saint Andrews Boulevard.
Ms Caruso expected perhaps thirty people would register for the event. Instead, some two hundred and fifty individuals appeared for the action. Cindy Sheehan may have been the invisible hand that nurtured what had been dormant within Susan.
The thoughtful actions of one Mom advanced the desire for peace in another. The enthusiasm of a local parent provoked others. Apparently, in Boca Raton, Florida scores of people felt it was time to speak out against the Iraq War. Perchance, Susan Caruso’s actions were as fertilizer. Her sponsorship helped to grow what would later be known as the Boca Peace Corner.
The vigil was scheduled to begin at dusk on August 13, 2005. South Florida residents filled a large field outside the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship building and then, in a desire to be seen by more, they moved to the corner of Saint Andrews Boulevard and Glades Road.
The Liberto family was there that first night. After, Scott Liberto and his spouse Jill made more than dozen signs. They packed these into a bag and brought the collection with them each week. The thought was, if others walked by and wanted to join the political action, they too would have a banner to hold. The energy and enthusiasm grew as did a movement towards peace.
The foundation for an ever-expansive evolution began on an August evening in 2005, and continues every Saturday in this little local enclave.
The growth is virtually unseen to those who quickly travel down the street. However, the grassroots expansion is evident to the early organizers and frequent participants. In less than three years, more than four hundred electronic mail addresses were collected from fervent persons who, at one time or another, participated in a vigil at the Boca Peace Corner.
Mike Budd and his wife Suzanne, each of whom was present on the first night, continue to attend. The two occupy the pavement across the street from the larger cluster. When asked why the couple does not join the crowd, Professor Budd offered, “We are more visible” Mike spoke of how from their place on the opposite corner, they are better able to make eye contact with the people who pass. Doctor Budd, a Vietnam veteran often adorned in attire that identifies his past combat experience, states that when he and his wife engage the drivers, the interaction is more persuasive. The pair does not converse with each other while at the intersection. They focus on the individuals who pass them by in automobiles or on foot.
Mike Budd notes as many of those who have stood on the Boca Peace Corner frequently do, “There has been a change in the responses over time.” The prospect for peace although not discernible from a distance, is obvious to those who nurture the growth.
Today demonstrators observe people are more tolerant. Those very few who voice a disagreement with the dissenters wish to know if the individuals who stand in vigil truly support the troops. Susan Caruso, the first to propose the peace action in Boca Raton definitely does. Shortly after she gave birth to the local movement her youngest son, Steven enlisted in the Army. Steven thought it important that he make a sacrifice as other, often less fortunate Americans, do.
For well over a year, Debra Leisten has stood in homage to the soldier she loves. “My nephew is in the Air Force. Presently he’s on his 2nd tour in the Middle East. After he returned from his first tour, he was very disillusioned with the purpose of our military role in Iraq.” However, Ms Leisten articulates, her nephew, being in the Armed Forces feels he is not “able to voice [his] dissent to the War.”
Leisten offers, “I wanted to honor our military and provide my nephew with a voice so I went to the Vigil.” She regretted that she had not known of the enduring event earlier. Nonetheless, once she discovered the Peace Corner she chose to actively participate each week.
Ms Leisten expressed as all those at the Peace Corner might, “I am so thankful for the opportunity to meet with like-minded people and exercise my constitutional right to free-speech and peaceable assembly.” Those who attend the Saturday vigils are as Debra expounds, grateful to grow peace.
Jerry Rabinowitz and Nancy Pawlowski, regular participants at the Peace Corner, realize the power people have when they work in unison to cultivate a movement. The two were deeply touched by the same seed that spurred Susan Caruso on. During the Thanksgiving holiday, in 2004, almost a year before the Boca Peace Corner became a reality; the couple was encouraged by their experience at Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas.
Nevertheless, Nancy had, and at times still has reservations that she, or people in any protest, can make a difference. It is hard to imagine that a few can fertilize true change. As Nancy reflects on the vigils she states, “I do not think we are personally stopping the war.”
Nancy acknowledges what a little bit of encouragement and information can produce. Ms Pawlowski “was never politically active until two or three years ago.” She was inspired to act when she realized how extreme man’s inhumanity to his fellow man might be. Ms Pawlowski explains, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison “really struck me.” The woman who would not have identified herself as an activist prior to the 2004 revelations apologetically admits, “I did not really do anything about it [my distress].” More accurately, Nancy did not conspicuously act on her angst. However, she did as people always do before they move; she ruminated.
As Ms Pawlowski pondered, just as she was mulling over the mayhem done in her name, she received a message from the organization that harvests the seeds of peace, MoveOn.org. Like Susan Caruso and Debra Leisten, Nancy hesitantly decided she must at least try to make a difference. Upon reflection, Nancy realized, when she took part in a peaceful demonstration all those years ago, she felt her soul was nourished.
Today, she smiles, and states, much to her surprise, “The people at the Corner affect me. They keep me coming back.” Now, when she stands street side she is aware of the fact, there are “some really good people” in this world. She believes, perchance it is possible to grow peace.
The tale of the Boca Peace Corner is as the lovely legendry allegory of the Chinese Bamboo Tree. The Chinese Bamboo Tree when planted, watered, and nurtured for an entire growing season does not appear to grow as much as an inch. During the second year of the seedling’s life, the gardener may again carefully water, fertilize, and nurture what he hopes will become a beautiful bamboo tree. Yet, the cane plant still does not sprout.
For four long years, the sun rises, and sets. The moon enters and exits its standard phases. The gardener and his family have nothing tangible to show for all of their labor. Love does not help the sapling along. No matter the nourishment bestowed upon the kernel meant to give birth to a Chinese bamboo tree, the pip appears dormant. The gardener fears the seed may have died. Yet, his hope does not waiver. He continues to attend to the possible plant.
Then, in the fifth year a miracle occurs. The Chinese Bamboo Tree seed finally sprouts and the perennial woody plant grows up to eighty feet in just one growing season, or so it would seem. The roots, just as grassroots efforts in South Florida were reaching out all along. A firm foundation was born out of sight.
One of the Boca Peace Corner participants understands this to her core. Betsy L. Angert does as the Budd’s do. When at the vigil she works to make eye contact with those who pass her. For more than a year, each Saturday, a well-groomed gentleman, perhaps, in his thirties drives by. His hair is a little long. His attire and automobile are as one might think, typical of Progressive. Betsy believes, from appearances, this man might show his support. However, after more than a year she accepted he may never acknowledge her presence.
This quiet man had not extended his digits in a sign of peace. Nor had he honked his horn. He rarely, if ever even offered a smile. Then, three weeks ago, he waved in delight as he turned the corner and once again saw Betsy. Perchance, that was a sign; if those at the Boca Peace Corner cultivate global harmony, a tranquility tree will grow.