Dozens gather for annual Holiday Peace Vigil in Olympia

Despite cold weather and pouring rain, dozens turned out at Olympia’s Percival Landing on Saturday afternoon to spread a message of peace.

The Holiday Peace Vigil is a local tradition that started 39 years ago. And for all those years the message has stayed the same: Focus on peaceful solutions instead of violence.

“At this time of year, you hear a lot of talk about peace on Earth and goodwill, but that statement can be very glib. We’re out here because we really mean it,” said event organizer Glen Anderson.

The Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation holds several peace vigils throughout the year, including one in Sylvester Park from noon-1 p.m. every Wednesday and another at Percival Landing from 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m. every Friday.

Anderson insisted that the United States government should be held to the same standards as men and women in the street. It’s not acceptable for the average person to respond to problems with violence, so why is it alright to respond to global problems that way?

“But still, our government gets away with it,” Anderson said.

Vietnam War veteran Mark Fleming said that although he’s served his country in the military, he believes that his real service has been standing on Olympia sidewalks and asking for peace. Bringing world peace, he said, is more important than any war — that’s why he has participated in the peace vigils since he moved to Olympia seven years ago.

“I’d like for there to be a day when there are no war veterans,” Fleming said. “That would mean we had no use for war.”

Maureen Hill joked that she really attends the annual event for the hot soup and beverages the group gathers to eat afterward. She’s attended the vigil for about 20 years, in all kinds of weather.

“The reason why we’re really here is to raise awareness and spread peace in the community,” Hill said.

It’s a welcome message to most Olympians, Anderson said. Drivers honk their horns as they pass, people wave and children make peace signs with their hands. The occasional pedestrian will even stop to chat with the group. Jaunty music played by the Artesian Rumble Arkestra also drew some attention.

“I think Olympia wants peace; it’s a message the community responds to,” Anderson said.

The annual gathering is important because grass-roots movements are what really cause change, he explained. A transition to peace can’t come from a government — it has to come from the people.

The vigil always has a good turnout, even when the weather is terrible, he said. It’s hard to estimate how many people show up because they come and go, but Anderson estimated that as many as 100 people have shown up in years past.

And this year’s rain really wasn’t that bad, he argued.

“We’ve been out here when the snow was a foot high,” Anderson said. “This is great weather. It’s a little rainy, but that’s not so bad.”