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LOCAL News :: Peace & War : Protest Activity

Richmond vigil held in soldiarity with troops and military families resisting war and other vigils across Virginia

At noon on Friday, August 26, 2005, about 40 people attended an anti-war vigil on the steps of the federal courthouse at 10th street and Main street in downtown Richmond. This vigil was organized by the Virginia Anti-War Network (VAWN) as a statewide action, with vigils also taking place in Augusta County and Blacksburg. As protesters stood with signs that called on motorists to "Honk for Peace", Virginia's capital city seemed more like San Francisco. Speaking in reference to the number of honks received, Christie Burwell explained that "you can really see the change in perceptions; people are reacting more positively than a year ago."
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Karen Ress arrived at the protest independently of any groups or organizations, but explained that this was definitely not her first time protesting this war. She expressed dismay at the dominant mentality among Richmonders. "I think people in Richmond feel hesitant to come out to these events because they are afraid that nobody will come out, and they will have to weather harassment from people passing by", she said, "but there are alot of people in Richmond who feel strongly about opposing the war".

Not all the protesters were seasoned activists however. For Gil, a navy veteran who recently moved to Richmond, this vigil was his first time attending an anti-war protest. He posed a question to the American public that "If the war is based on a lie, what does it mean to continue fighting?"

The protesters arrived to support Larry Syverson's ongoing weekly vigil of more than two years. Larry's constant presence in front of the Federal Courthouse is more than a call for justice for the people of Iraq, it is how a father has chosen to support his two sons who have been fighting in Iraq. The main subject on Larry's mind during the vigil seemed to be concern for mental health of his son Bryce. He returned from Iraq last summer and after living a fairly healthy life for the first 6 months, began to suffer a great deal due to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The military had Bryce stationed in Baghdad, where his base would frequently be attacked by mortar fire in the middle of the night. Fireworks that Bryce heard on new years eve triggered an emotional reaction and sent him into a severe depression. Currently Bryce is checked into Walter Reed psychiatric ward to receive help dealing with his PTSD. Larry is outraged that the military insists that Bryce return to Iraq in November. "I don’t think that my son is in any condition to go back to Iraq" he stated. Larry's concern blankets over all the troops stationed in Iraq. "The official number of veterans with PTSD is something like 15%... but it really depends on where you were stationed over there". Larry told me that his son claims that among those troops who were stationed in Baghdad the number of soldiers with PTSD is definitely over 50%. Bryce encouraged Larry to share information on his condition in the hospital. So in addition to the weekly protest, Larry is flying to Crawford Texas tomorrow to join Cindy Sheehan in a national press conference directed at President Bush and public of the United States.

Since its inception at the beginning of 2005, the Virginia Anti-War Network (VAWN) has been supporting Larry's vigil. "We put forth effort to connect Larry's regular vigil to Cindy Sheehan's vigil in Crawford Texas." said Garrie Rouse, a member of VAWN. The media coverage that Cindy Sheehan has received has had "tremendous impact" on the attitudes of everyday people in the US. "The media is not presenting her properly... [they make it seem as though] she is being manipulated by leftists, [but] Cindy Sheehan has been active in the anti-war movement for a while." Garrie recounted hearing Cindy speak out at past anti-war protests, well before she became a hot topic in the mainstream media. Despite the media's manipulation of Cindy Sheehan's identity, "alot of Americans can connect to her, and are feeling more secure in their anti-war positions", said Garrie. "They see her as a very legitimate figure".

The protest today was part of VAWN's gearing up for the national protest in DC on September 24th. VAWN has organized busses to go to DC for the day. Tickets are $20, $10 for students or people with limited income, but nobody will be turned away for lack of funds. In order to reserve a seat, you must make payment in advance via check or money order made out to "Garrie Rouse" and mailed to: VAWN, Attn: Garrie Rouse, PO Box 146, Aylett, VA 23009. A confirmation e-mail of your reservation will be sent once we have received payment. If you do not have e-mail, please include a phone number and time you can be reached.

If you have any questions, you can call (804) 769-1449 and ask for Garrie, or email RichmondBus (at) riseup.net.

The Virginia Anti-War Network was founded on Jan. 8, 2005. VAWN is composed of 11 affiliated organizations, as well as many individual activists, in Aylett, Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Chesterfield County, Fredericksburg, Louisa County, Norfolk, Richmond, Staunton, Waynesboro, Williamsburg and Yorktown. For more information, visit the VAWN Web site at www.vaantiwar.org.

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