"Message of peace at anti-war rally"
- Peace activist's message: Debate those who disagree, not the converted
by MICHAEL J. MISHAK. [Chestnut Hill Local, July 1, 2004.]
Three days before the United States transferred political authority
to an interim Iraqi government, about two dozen Northwest residents gathered
at Germantown's Vernon Park during a peace rally last Friday afternoon,
calling for an end to U.S. occupation.
The event, sponsored by the Northwest Peace & Justice Movement, was
one of many capping off a weekend of national anti-war actions announced by
groups like United for Peace & Justice and Win Without War.
With storm clouds looming overhead, the rally's speakers urged the
crowd to debate those who disagreed with them, instead of preaching to the
Celeste Zappala, a Mt. Airy resident and member of Military Families
Speak Out, talked about the loss of her son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who died
in Iraq on April 26 when a suspected chemical warehouse exploded in Baghdad.
A lifelong peace activist, Zappala has been an outspoken critic of
the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. Since her son's death, she has
been disseminating a message of peace on airwaves, in newsprint and at
Zappala described to the crowd a "sweet and noble" man from their
community who "took his responsibilities as a citizen very seriously."
Baker taught Sunday school at the First United Methodist Church of
Germantown and attended camp at the Greene Street YMCA and school at Houston
school, she said. He also could be seen at vigils in front of U.S. Senator
Specter's East Falls home and on Germantown Avenue during the nuclear freeze
campaign, she said.
In the absence of satisfactory answers, Zappala said she has been
left with some tough questions. "What is this for? Why has this happened?
What can we do?"
With more than 100 soldiers killed since her son's death, Zappala
called on the crowd to "reach out to others" and to "live democracy" by
expressing their views.
"It's hard work being a citizen in a democracy," she said. "But to
bring peace we must be peace. How do we get to peace if we're making enemies
faster than we can kill them?"
Both Gary Kapanowski, of AFSCME District Council 47, and Marlene
Santoyo, of the National Organization of Women and the Philadelphia
Federation of Teachers, railed against a government that practices
"corporate welfare" and a society that places "profits before people."
Santoyo called for an increase in the minimum wage and an affordable
universal healthcare network.
"Our soldiers don't volunteer because they want to kill," she said.
"They do it because they need a job."
Referencing director Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which opened
that day, Santoyo said, "the haves and the have-mores" benefit while those
in communities like Germantown suffer.
Imam Suetwedien Muhammad, of Masjid Muhammad, also encouraged those
present to speak out against the war.
"We assume people know," he said. "They don't know. But they'll find out.
What used to be far away will soon be at their doorstep."
While violence rages abroad, the imam said, the "war at home"
shouldn't be forgotten.
Those interested in more information about the Northwest peace
movement can contact nwgreens@....