I’m not entirely sure what people think when they see living statues standing among the bronze ones, especially when it’s cold. But from inside that circle, it feels warm. This month marks the eighth anniversary of the Calgary Women in Black’s twice-monthly vigils for peace. That’s 192 noon-hour vigils, in rain, snow, sunshine and wind. In 2009, one of our vigil days fell on December 25. Claire McMordie said, “That’s just about the most Christmassy thing I’ve ever done on Christmas Day!”
Women in Black is an international movement and network of women of conscience that began in Jerusalem in 1988. Today, women throughout the world hold vigils to offer a symbol and voice for peace.
I learned about the movement watching a CBC documentary about peace groups in Israel, including Women in Black. At the time, it seemed the only news from Israel was violent. I determined that if ever I went to Israel, I would stand with them. I did in 1992 and again in 2003. Back home, I phoned my friend Ronnie Joy Leah and asked, “Is it time to start a Calgary Women in Black group?”
Since then, some of us have stood with other groups: New York City, Victoria, Edmonton and Jerusalem. And holidaying Women in Black from Israel, Belgium, the United States, Holland and France have stood with us.
In Calgary, we stand downtown in Olympic Plaza, in the circle created by the Famous Five statues. We’re surrounded by suffragettes Nellie McClung, Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Edwards and Louise McKinney. I like to imagine their spirits happily enveloping us.
We are unnoticed, ignored, waved at, serenaded, cursed, thanked and conversed with. Occasionally we’re lectured by the sober or drunk. Once, a young man talked for some time about his military father, then wept. For several weeks, a construction worker bought us coffee whenever he spotted us. Donations help us support peace camps, photocopy leaflets and purchase doves that Marion Jorgensen paints for children. We have received notes: “I can’t join you, but know that I look for you, and thank you for making this quiet statement that there are other ways to view the world.”
We generally wear black, symbolizing solidarity with victims of violence. I sewed a black cape, lined it with rainbow colours and wrote on it the names of organizations and individuals who work for peace and justice. Peacemakers from Boston to Fort McMurray have added their signatures; their names keep me warm.
Over coffee after the vigil, we share news about our individual work with Friends of Medicare, Project Ploughshares, Kairos, the Peace Consortium, Child Well-being Initiative, Interfaith groups, Peace Dances, the justice system and more.
No matter the weather, stepping into that circle with friends and ancestors warms me with hope.
Keep it free!
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