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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Mothers See The Tide Turn Toward Peace

Susan Paynter

The colors on "These Colors Don't Run" bumper stickers now seem sun-faded and dimmer than the ones I see declaring "Out of Iraq Now."

It's just an observation. I haven't applied a CSI kit to check their age.

But the Women in Black who, for four long years, have been a Friday evening fixture on Olympia's Fourth Avenue, sense it, too. As they stand their silent vigil for peace, they're getting a lot more waves and thumbs-up and a lot fewer single fingers.

The polls tell us the public worm has turned. But those are statistics.

Where these women's soles hit the road and cars pass by, the change is tangible.

Diane Skov of Lacey has been there nearly every Friday since the invasion.

At first, she told me, there were the predictable obscenities.

"But we don't get that now. If we get even one 'bird,' it's surprising."

She predicted the same mild climate of acceptance in anticipation of Sunday -- Mother's Day -- when she and other women across the country again took back a commercialized cards-and-flowers-holiday, returning it to its original intention as a statement against losing children, husbands -- and now wives -- to war.

In Olympia, cheery pink invitations requested the pleasure of everyone's company, rain or shine, to a Mother's Day Peace Walk around Capitol Lake.

And Monday in Washington, D.C., "Peace Moms" are staging a "swarm" in response to President Bush's veto of legislation containing a time frame for withdrawal.

At both sites, few passing cars -- whatever their bumper stickers say -- were expected to spew objections.

"People have had it," said Linda Sheldon, one of the organizers of the Olympia event. (Yes, she's the wife of right-leaning state Senator and Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon.)

This year, groups e-mailed her about their own Mother's Day marching plans. Mothers and Others Against the War, Code Pink, Mothers Acting Up and more feel buoyed by the fact that more of their fellow citizens now support their statements.

"We gauge it every week from the traffic," Sheldon said. "We get a lot of response from the drivers. It used to be sprinkled with some fingers, some waves. Now it seems the community has almost adopted us."

Bus drivers wave. So do police. Drivers blow them kisses.


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"People put their hands over their hearts, including, recently, a Muslim woman (in hijab)."

A soldier in camouflage recently drove by, stuck his hand out the window and flashed a peace sign. More than a few soldiers back from Iraq have stopped by to stand with the women or thank them. So have their mothers.

People in limousines out for special occasions with little kids hanging out the windows have circled the block for a second pass to applaud. Previously oblivious teenagers often signal peace.

"Last week, a rigid-looking guy at the wheel didn't want to acknowledge us, but his wife sneaked her hand out the window and waved," Sheldon said.

It isn't a perpetual picnic. Some of the women drive as long as two hours to join the Friday evening vigils regardless of weather. On the opposite corner, members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation now stand as well, occasionally joined by a marching band. Sheldon says it can be a "pretty jumpin' place" Fridays at 5. So jumpin' that vestiges of opposition occasionally do materialize.

One small but angry group of counter-protestors started sandwiching itself between the Women in Black and the Fellowship of Reconciliation folks after the Women in Black dedicated one of their vigils to peace activist Rachel Corrie, killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian settlements. Corrie's mother, Cindy Corrie, sometimes stands with the women on Fourth Avenue.

One man stationed himself in front of a Woman in Black, shaking a sign that read, "God Bless Israeli Bulldozers!" Another sign read "Jail Weasel Watada!," a reference to Lt. Ehren Watada, court-martialed for refusing to deploy to Iraq.

But sporadic fits of anger are rare and seem to be sputtering out while a warm tide of support at least appears to be rising.

Diane Skov understands the remnants of anger even as she feels them ebb.

"I felt that way too -- so powerless -- when we went in (to Iraq). It's the need to hold on to the feeling of being right," she said.

She has lived in Lacey all her life. In fact, she's third generation. And it hasn't always been an easy place to literally stand up, oppose the war and risk being seen as opposing the troops.

"But, now, people know we are just the mothers and grandmothers of their own community and that means something to them," she said.

Skov used to keep a journal, noting in it the threats, insults and opposing views. But she stopped when there was rarely anything to write down.

Recently, a bus driver did navigate a wide circle to shield his passengers' eyes from the silent, standing women. But, far more often, there are encouraging waves.

A few of them even come from cars with bumper stickers nearly too faded to read.

Susan Paynter's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail

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