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The Corvallis Gazette-Times (Oregon)

8 Years and Counting (and Still Standing)

Raju Woodward

Wednesday October 7, 2009 will be the eighth anniversary of the daily war protest at the Benton County Courthouse. (Andy Cripe | Gazette-Times)

If you've driven past the Benton County Courthouse between 5 and 6 p.m. over the past few years, you've likely seen them.

"Them" being the group of Corvallis residents holding signs and flags asking for military restraint and peace.

They've been out there since the first day of the United States invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001.

Wednesday marks the eighth anniversary of the daily peace vigil, which depending on the day and time can have anywhere from a handful of people participating to hundreds.

To recognize the occasion, vigil participants will mail postcards to President Obama on Wednesday asking to end military action Afghanistan.

"It's the responsibility of citizens to make their voices and opinions heard when necessary," said Corvallis resident Ed Epley. "Especially when something is unjust or unfair."

Epley, who is one of the most consistent regulars at the vigil, said it's the longest protest he has ever taken part in. Over the past eight years, he has braved extreme weather and rudeness. Even a few physical threats.

"One time a car veered right at me, almost into the parking space along the sidewalk there," Epley said. "It was clearly an offensive move that was a threat to me."

So imagine his shock moments later when the driver of the car came up to him and apologized.

"He said, 'What I did to you was wrong,'" Epley said. " 'I may not agree with what you said, but you have every right to say that.' I thought it was a very sincere apology, too."

Plenty of obscene gestures and words have been directed toward the group. Objects have also been thrown, but Epley said nobody has been hurt, so far.

In fact, he said reaction to the vigil has been 75 to 80 percent positive the past eight years. Part of it is due to the fact that many of participants realize it doesn't do much good to argue because most of the time nobody wants to listen. Or in Epley's case, sometimes he's not in the mood to be feisty.

Bob Stebbins, the local chapter president for Veterans for Peace, said the main goal of the vigil is to make people aware that other options exist beside military action.

"So many people get caught up in the politics of it all," Stebbins said. "They forget how many people are getting injured and killed. There's other ways to obtain peace or fight terrorism."

The vigil has led to some changes already on a local level. For example, Roberta Hall, a volunteer with Corvallis Alternatives to War, said Truth in Recruiting campaigns have been established at Corvallis and Crescent Valley high schools. Truth in Recruiting campaigns are designed to counter military recruiters' presentations.

Hall also said a listserve has been created to spread the word about the vigil and other related activities. Despite this, Hall has mixed feelings about the actual conflict in Afghanistan.

"It goes up and down," she said. "Progress is made and then we see it go back down. Only time will tell what happens."

Until then, Hall will continue to hold signs in front of the courthouse like she has the past seven years.

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