In his 20s, Courtney Siceloff was a conscientious objector to World War II.
In his 40s, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Afghanistan.
And at 80, he was arrested.
Siceloff's entire life has been about peace. He was one of several people hauled to jail for holding a sit-in at Sen. Zell Miller's Atlanta office in November. He and four other anti-war activists refused to leave until they were granted a meeting with the senator, who has supported President Bush's plan to use military force in Iraq.
Courtney Siceloff, 81, braves the cold with other war protesters at Peachtree and 14th streets on Jan. 3. (Photo/Jeremy Bales)
"If you wait until it happens, it's too late," said Siceloff, now facing criminal trespass charges. "The time to act is now." So, as they have every Friday for the past few months, Siceloff and other protesters will picket outside Miller's office on Peachtree this afternoon.
Sit-ins, protests and marches may seem like a young person's job, but Siceloff and others are showing that, in some, activism never mellows. As the nation creeps toward a possible war with Iraq, the ranks of anti-war protesters are growing. Plentiful among them are people in their 60s, 70s and older. And that's not all that unusual.
"I can't think of an anti-war movement that hasn't started this way," said Charles Chatfield, a retired professor at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, who has studied and written about the history of anti-war sentiment. "They provide the leadership and experience."
Chatfield said anti-war activism in every conflict after World War I has been spearheaded by people middle-aged and older. Even Vietnam War protests, which are historically portrayed as growing out of college campuses, started with groups of aging activists who were longtime members of peace and anti-war groups, he said.
A second war in Iraq appears to be following the same pattern.
"I can't see myself sitting by a pool at a retirement community and devoting myself to golf and bridge," said Joseph Parko, 64, another of those arrested at Miller's office. "It's a deep conviction about the need for peace and justice that drives me."
A life of peace
Siceloff, who turned 81 earlier this month, has spent his entire adult life on peaceful and social causes.
After doing domestic service at conscientious objector camps, he went to the south of France to work with refugees from the Spanish Civil War. Then he and his wife, Elizabeth, directed Penn Community Services, on St. Helena Island, S.C. The center provided hospitality and meeting space for those involved in the civil rights movement.
After 20 years at Penn, Siceloff, then 47, his wife and two children spent more than three years in Afghanistan with the Peace Corps. Upon returning to the states, Siceloff worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as a field secretary in the southern region. That's what brought him to Atlanta.
These days, Siceloff is retired and spends his time visiting his grandson in Miami and tending to his home in Inman Park. Still fit and focused, he shows few sign of being an octogenarian -- save for gray hair and a hearing aid. And the golden years have not mellowed his drive for peace. Siceloff and Parko are members of the American Friends Service Committee, the service branch of the Quakers, who oppose all war.
"From a religious point of view I've felt very keenly that one should not take lives," said Siceloff, wearing a "No War" pin. Siceloff sells anti-war yard signs, marches and participates in weekly pickets Miller's office.
"It's one thing to carry placards," he said, "but there has to be something more done."
Taking a seat
In August, Siceloff, Parko and others had given Miller's staff a petition signed by 3,000 people opposing war with Iraq. However, Miller voted on Oct. 11 to give President Bush the ability to wage war. Since then, the anti-war activists have demanded a meeting with Miller where they could get answers to specific questions about a war and its consequences. They met with staff but never got to see the senator.
"We thought that he was supposed to represent us," said Parko, a retired professor who lives in Candler Park. "We finally decided we needed to push the issue."
On Nov. 4, they arrived at Miller's office and asked for a meeting with him within the month. When told the senator was out of the office, the five activists decided to hold a sit-in until they got a meeting. They got a letter instead.
"Your position on this issue is clear and I have heard it," read the letter, signed by Miller. "My position on this issue is equally as clear and firm."
At about 5:30 p.m., the police came and ordered the protesters to move. When they refused, they were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. The charges are still pending.
While Siceloff and others await a trial, they continue to protest.
"War is not the answer," Siceloff said. "I have an obligation to do everything I can to see that it doesn't happen."
© 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution