Years later, Women in Black still standing firm

Still, they stand for peace.

It was January 2004 when I met Beth Burrows and others involved with Snohomish County Women in Black. A year before that, with the Iraq war about to start, the group began holding weekly vigils near the Edmonds Ferry Terminal.

Their quiet anti-war demonstrations, which began Jan. 12, 2003, take the lead from the Women in Black movement born in the 1980s in Israel. There, Jewish and Palestinian women made a powerful statement by standing in silence.

In Edmonds, years of Sunday vigils have fostered relationships too close for silence.

“We go every Sunday. We have gone every Sunday all these years,” Burrows said Wednesday.

“We don’t enforce silence. People stop by and want to talk. This is the way we do it,” she said.

Burrows and others involved with Women in Black will talk about their peace efforts during a program at 7 tonight at the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church.

The vigils sometimes draw 15 women, sometimes just three. Only an icy day stopped the 69-year-old Burrows from once making her public stand.

“Am I a naturally peaceful person? I don’t think of myself that way,” she said. “One of the women holds a sign that says ‘Peace Too Takes Courage.’ It takes courage and patience.”

In a week that brought dreadful news of a U.S. Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 civilians in two Afghan villages, Burrows said, “It’s so sad on so many levels. Horrible, horrible, horrible. I don’t believe we can afford this method of solving problems.”

Reactions from people waiting in weekend ferry traffic come in every stripe — warm smiles, heated arguments, something in between.

Some see the women holding peace signs and answer with obscene gestures. Others bring the women coffee.

“We’ve had people come back from Iraq and be very unhappy we’re there. We are not there to spit on their contribution,” the Edmonds woman said. “Is that really what we want to be doing with our national treasures — our people, and the reputation and resources of our country?”

Norma Bruns is 88. She, too, began standing with Women in Black near the Edmonds ferry dock in 2003.

“When I don’t go I almost feel guilty. We’ve sort of established a bond,” said Bruns, whose late husband, Richard Bruns, was a World War II veteran who took part in the invasion of Normandy.

“My husband lost a leg in World War II,” Bruns said. “He thought it was good, what I was doing. Some veterans came away with the feeling that peace was better. There are other ways to handle problems.”

Bruns admitted she has missed some recent Sundays. “My age and my bones are catching up with me,” she said.

At almost 70, Burrows said she considers herself “a kid” among the group.

“One person will go in for a hip replacement, or her grandchildren are visiting,” she said. “One woman died a day before our vigil. Her children came, and it turned out to be a memorial for her.”

They haven’t kept track of the reactions over the years, but Burrows believes more people today seem to welcome their message than did in the early years.

“Many people are very complimentary. I think it’s our steadfastness over time,” she said. “I’m not there running for office. I’m there to get people thinking about things that involve all of us. If people continue to talk about it and engage, that’s success. If they don’t agree, OK. At least they’re thinking about it.”

Could she have imagined, in 2003, that nearly a decade later she would still be standing — in wind, cold, rain and hot sun — on a corner in Edmonds every Sunday?

“No, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have started,” Burrows said.

Before the vigils began, Burrows said the women obtained a permit from city. They later learned it wasn’t necessary. “I found the original permit,” she said.

The group planned to “stand there until all threat of war has passed,” Burrows said, “which possibly means I’ll die there.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Women in Black

Members of Women in Black, part of an international movement to promote peace, will speak from 7-9 tonight in Chapman Hall at Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church, 8109 224th St. SW.

On Sundays, Women in Black gather from 12:30-1:30 p.m. by the Brackett’s Landing sign, corner of Main Street and Railroad Avenue in downtown Edmonds, near the ferry terminal.

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