War, peace and doughnuts

EVERETT – Every Friday at lunchtime, he comes armed with politeness and two pink boxes of doughnuts.

Elizabeth Armstrong / The Herald

Brian Smith, 19, of Monroe stakes out his position in the divider between competing demonstrations in downtown Everett last Friday.

Like a parent trying to stave off a fight, he’s got equal numbers of maple bars, apple fritters and glazed with sprinkles.

“Everyone is always looking for a reason to argue,” Brian Smith says.

Smith, 19, calmly jumps into the political gulf that emerges weekly at Hewitt and Colby avenues, where supporters and opponents of U.S. policy in Iraq compete for honks of approval.

For the past few months, Smith has staked out truly middle ground, perching on the median of Hewitt Avenue.

The location is key. His sign demands it:


Standing in the middle is safer, he said, despite the traffic.

“It’s the only way I can see to make a statement,” he said. “I’m trying to bridge the sides.”

The doughnuts help.

“I can’t afford coffee for everybody,” Smith said, shivering recently in 30-degree weather. He spends about $15 a week on doughnuts and bottled water for the demonstrators, he said.

The noon peace demonstrations against U.S. policy in Iraq began in downtown Everett in 2003, months before the war in Iraq began. Soon after, and every Friday since, supporters of President Bush have staged a counterprotest.

Attendance varies with the headlines and the weather.

Sometimes, the acid rises between the Evergreen Troop Support Group on the north side of Hewitt and Everett Peace Action on the south side.

One shouts: “Chicken-(expletive) liberals!”

In reply: “Candy-(expletive) patriot!”

They’re clear examples of the vitriol and disrespect Smith said he dislikes, and that is what motivated him to perform his own act of civic demonstration.

“When I first came out here, I saw a lot of animosity, hatred on both sides,” Smith said. “I remember just wanting to get involved. I completely disagreed with how they were treating each other.”

Despite his presence, the sides remain boisterous and polarized.

Dexter Mason, waving a huge American flag with the Evergreen Troop Support Group, said he appreciates the apple fritter.

“He’s got a good heart, but he’s confused,” Mason said of Smith. “He’s trying to be a participant, but he’s a little disconnected.

“He’s a good person. And there’s room for everybody. There’s room for dissent.”

Vernon Huffman, vice president of Everett Peace Action, held a “Wage Peace” sign as he praised Smith.

“We’re really grateful for the doughnuts,” he said. “The spirit is marvelous.”

What they don’t eat, they take to the food bank, Huffman said.

Smith is a Safeway produce worker from Monroe who is taking general studies classes nearby at Puget Sound Christian College. He is an aspiring musician and writer. The Friday demonstrations are between classes and a way to flex his free-speech muscles, he said.

Smith said he can’t gauge the effect of his presence.

“I’m not sure yet. I intend to build unity between the two, and mutual respect.

“I think you can disagree and do it peacefully,” he said.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or jswitzer@heraldnet.com.

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