Ten years after their first gathering, a local anti-war group is still meeting each week to spread their massage of harmony.
On Monday, Jan. 28, members of the Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace organization marked their 10th anniversary by meeting at Delmar’s Four Corners and holding a short vigil. Despite the landmark, it was a typical Monday for the group’s members — since 2003, they have held approximately 500 vigils calling for an end to war throughout the world.
“I think we have made a big difference in our community,” said member Trudy Quaif, who was first encouraged to join the group by her son. “We’ve gained a lot of support and the community is a lot more aware of the injustices other people face in the world.”
Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace originally came into being shortly after a 2003 fasting rally organized by the local Women Against War chapter. A month later, the newly formed Neighbors for Peace group would be a small part of a coordinated worldwide rally protesting the war in Iraq.
One of BNP’s first locally orchestrated events was a candlelight vigil during which 350 people walked from the Four Corners, past Bethlehem Town Hall and back again. The group has continued to hold a similar event each Monday since that time.
Over its decade in existence, the group has grown to more than 700 members.
“I think we were kind of naïve in the beginning, in that we wanted to end the war in the Middle East and we really thought we could if we had enough people behind us,” said Quaif.
She said although peace throughout the world continues to be a goal, the group now focuses on educating the community about current affairs by holding forums, vigils and small discussion groups. Members also participate in demonstrations and hand out printed information to residents.
BNP member Joseph Lombardo, who is also part of the United National Anti-War Coalition, said although membership remains high, regular participation in events and vigils has diminished over time.
“There was a lot of sentiment to protest against that war at the time,” he said. “At first we had large meetings with large groups of people attending. We are now a smaller group, but we’ve gained a lot of experience.”
He said although participation has shrunk, he believes sentiment for the Neighbors’ cause has grown. The group has also established partnerships with other anti-war associations.
“Worldwide peace is not something Bethlehem can do alone,” Lombardo said.
Quaif and Lombardo said although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are ending, the work being done by their group will not.
“If anything, we’re looking to expand our scope,” said Quaif.
Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace no longer have their sights focused only on stopping war, but many members are also taking up social justice issues, like veteran and immigration affairs. They are also becoming involved in the issue of horizontal hydraulic fracturing within the state.
“It’s becoming increasingly obviously that the priorities in our country need to change,” Quaif said.
Lombardo said he feels the group’s presence in the community has been a positive for residents, and there is still a need for the Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace to continue on with their cause.
“The United States still has troops in 120 countries around the world and war takes up 59 percent of our budget,” he said. “There’s still lot of work for the anti-war movement to do and we’re going to keep on going.”