About nine years ago, or more accurately, 476 Saturdays ago, a group of about 50 people stood on the corner of Route 59 and Middletown Road in Nanuet in protest of the United States going to war with Iraq, which they felt was coming imminently.
“People threw things at us, people cursed at us and yelled to move to France,” said Mark Deats, of New City, one of people standing in Nanuet from 1 to 3 p.m. each Saturday.
But as the Saturdays went on, the group, known as the Rockland Coalition For Peace & Justice, noticed a change in noise. No longer was there as much yelling, but instead, people were honking, as a large number of people in the group held up “Honk For Peace” signs.
With the last combat troops being pulled out of Iraq in late December, the Coalition held its final peace vigil on the Nanuet corner this past Saturday. They had been out there on Saturdays for nine years and one month, said Nancy Tsou, coordinator of the group and one of the founders.
“We started out here before the war started, but we could see it coming,” she said. “We felt like we should not just go bomb anybody.”
It started with a bus-full of local residents who drove down to Washington D.C. to protest the war there as part of a larger effort. On the bus ride back, someone asked if they should start holding protests locally, and everyone thought it was a good idea, Tsou said.
The first few times out, she estimated there were between 50-60 people, but said over the years, the crowds got as big as around 300 people. At the final vigil, there were at least 50.
On their corner, they had anti-war signs and handed out literature about why they were against the war to people walking by and cars stopped at red lights. Tsou said she thinks the group’s efforts did help change public opinion on the war.
“Collectively as a group, we did a lot more than we could’ve got done individually,” she said. “What we did was small, but I think significant.”
Danny Gormley, of New City, is a Vietnam veteran and has been joining the Saturday protests for about seven years.
“At least for me, after being in a war, you start questioning all wars after it,” he said. “You see that sometimes they’re based on lies, deception and profit for the few. I also don’t think a lot of people see the price soldiers in war pay down the line after it’s ended, and that their families pay.”
Betsy Thomason, of Park Ridge, NJ, has a son in the Air Force currently, but she has been attending the protests for a few years.
“I consider myself militant about peace, but I do want to honor the fact that he is serving,” she said.
After the two-hour demonstration Saturday, the group moved a few feet away from the corner of Middletown and Route 59 to a patch of grass on 59. There Tsou and a few others thanked everyone for their work throughout the past nine-plus years and then they sang a few songs. Thomason played recorder along with Susan Gorman, of Stony Point, on guitar. They sang four songs, including “This Land Is Your Land” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind.”
Tsou said the group will still remain active, and in the coming weeks they’re looking to have a meeting to discuss where to go from here. She said there’s a lot of issues the members of the group are passionate about, and they’ll try to figure out what direction to move in.
Also on Saturdays, on the opposite corner across Middletown Road, on that corner of Middletown and Route 59, a group has stood there with “Support The Troops” signs. Paul Murray, of New City, said he’s been attending their demonstrations since about March 2003, and they plan on continuing.
“We’ve still got people in Afghanistan, so we’ll keep coming out here to show our support,” he said.