Nov. 21 – 27, 2002
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
JOHNSON CITY — People come to malls to shop, congregate, pass time and in recent weeks, to demonstrate.
On Saturday mornings at the Oakdale Mall, things are no different from what happens at hundreds of other malls across the country. Some walk briskly for exercise, others gather for a cup of coffee, shaking off yawns as they make their way around the building. Then, just after 11 o’clock, a lone woman in a distinctive white tee shirt appears carrying a purse. A man with the same tee shirt darts in and out of the crowd in the opposite direction. More and more tee shirt wearers filter in and out of stores.
Their message is simple: a peace sign on the front, “NO WAR” printed on the back. “There are the peaceniks again,” a passerby observed.
“I’d rather be known as a peacenik than a hawk,” said Lynda Carroll.
One of the organizers of the walk, Carroll is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Binghamton University. She wore a small waist pack and handed out antiwar stickers to a group of other walkers. One sticker was put on an occupied baby carrier.
“We want the Binghamton community to know that there are lots of people in the area who do not support the U.S. attack on Iraq, “ she added.
Weekly protests have gone on at the Federal Courthouse in Binghamton for some time now, but organizers felt more visibility was needed. They discussed several possible locations, including at the Johnson City traffic circle. That was rejected as being dangerous and distracting. Then Carroll suggested the indoor mall for the winter months. “There was debate about this since it is technically private property. However, we all agreed that there would be no problem with like-minded individuals just doing a mall walk,” she said. “It was basically envisioned as small groups of people just walking through the mall with messages on their tee shirts.”
Ann Clune, a parishioner at St. James Church in Johnson City, noted some “thumbs up” as she made the walk. Clune felt it was important to get a message across.
“I am participating because as a pacifist Christian I do not believe military force is the proper response to Saddam Hussein’s sometimes truly evil policies and actions. The economic sanctions against Iraq have already caused uncounted deaths and incalculable hardship for the ordinary citizens of the country. Their government’s policies are bad but not unique, and military attack to change the regime is likely to produce far more harm than good,” she said.
Clune said she didn’t hear negative comments and wasn’t stopped by anyone during her journey. She said many seemed oblivious to the message on the tee shirts.
“I think it is important to provoke people to think about the impending war and encourage them to oppose it,” Clune added. “Seeing a couple dozen of us walking publicly to proclaim our opposition to war, they might be encouraged to vocalize their own hesitations. Many people get feeling helpless and hopeless to stop the societal trend toward domination politics. Seeing that there are others willing to be visible in opposition to this trend might encourage more and more to think for themselves and stand up for what is morally right.”
Counting the number of people actually wearing the Peace/No War shirts was difficult as they moved around the mall. But they were visible in all areas of the mall/ Father Tim Taugher, diocesan director of Social Action Ministry, wore his clerical collar under the peace shirt. Taugher called the walk a “positive” experience. “Seeing that through the mall gives [people] an awareness of the issue and furthers the message that there’s opposition to this,” Father Taugher said. “It was well done, people wandering in and out of stores.”
Father Taugher was joined by Joe Coudriet, parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott and Jack Gilroy, parishioner of St. Ambrose Church in Endicott. “Lots of people noticed these three old(er) guys with white tee shirts saying NO WAR,” said Coudriet. “Although Father Tim saw and greeted lots of parishioners, no one else went out of their way to say ‘yeah’ or ‘nay.’ But they did see us and our witness for peace.”
“It was good that I was with Father Tim and Jack because they don’t frequent the mall and kept getting lost when we went in to stores. I had to show them the way,” Coudriet joked. More mall walk dates are possible at other Binghamton-area shopping centers, supporters said. Father Taugher said there may be walkers out on the Friday after Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.