Saturday marks two decades of weekly peace activism on Greenfield Common

  • Conway resident Mary McClintock, seen wearing her “peace apron” on the Greenfield Common. Saturday marks 20 years of community members holding a peace vigil on the common from 11 a.m. to noon. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Community members take part in a May rally on the Greenfield Common, organized by Conway resident Mary McClintock, in protest of “right wing attacks on abortion rights.” Saturday marks 20 years of community members holding vigils on the common from 11 a.m. to noon, expressing their desire for peace. STAFF FILE PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • People gather on the Greenfield Common in June to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade, with peace vigil leader Mary McClintock swapping out her usual “peace apron.” The weekly vigil for peace begun 20 years ago has been complemented over the years by a variety of other causes. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2022 10:22:59 AM
Modified: 9/23/2022 10:22:21 AM

GREENFIELD — For the last 20 years, no amount of wind, rain, snow or extreme temperatures has prevented peace activists from gathering on the Greenfield Common for their weekly vigil.

“We have started thousands and thousands of conversations with people in cars, with people walking by,” said Conway resident Mary McClintock, one of the four women who were first to stand on the common in 2002 with signs demanding peace and the end of war. “(It raises) the awareness of ‘Oh, right, the U.S. is paying billions and billions of dollars on bombing other countries instead of making sure everybody here has a place to live, food to eat and health care.”

Saturday marks 20 years of community members holding vigils on the common from 11 a.m. to noon, expressing their desire for peace, according to McClintock. Six months after the tradition was begun, Iraq was invaded in March 2003 by U.S. forces.

“The numbers have gone up and down at different times,” she said of vigil attendance. “We started in September of 2002, and the Iraq War started in March of 2003. In those six months, there was a lot of peace activism around the world and in the U.S. There were times when we had over 100 people.”

Pat Hynes, a board member with the Greenfield-based Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, commended McClintock for her activism.

“Mary McClintock’s admirable 20 years of standing on the Greenfield Common to protest U.S. wars and militarism, with her signature ‘peace aprons,’ has been an inspiration for those joining her more recently,” Hynes said in a statement.

In recent years, the peace vigil has grown to include a 10 a.m. vigil for racial justice that was started by Racial Justice Rising, and a noon silent meditation. The Greenfield Common has been used to draw attention to a variety of issues.

“It really all ties back to (peace),” said Mary Siano, who has participated in the vigils since 2002. “We see it as so connected to the resources that are available for all. The domestic agenda — health care, education — all of that suffers because of the extraordinary amount of money we put into the military.”

Before joining the group in 2002, Siano said, she drove to Northampton for a weekly peace vigil against the sanctions in Iran. That was until she found out through McClintock, someone she’d only known through her work at World Eye Bookshop, about the vigils happening on the Greenfield Common.

“I went to the common and I’ve been going ever since,” she said. “I think it has to do with bearing witness. If you don’t stand up and object, then you’re … complicit with it.”

War, she said, just leads to more problems. “I don’t think there is any justice with war. You’re not going to come up with a just solution.”

Both Siano and McClintock recalled a handful of counter-protesters who stood across the street for a few years more than a decade ago, protesting the people at the vigil.

“There were signs that were definitely targeting us,” McClintock said. “He wasn’t just expressing a different political opinion, he was saying bad things about peace vigil-ers.”

Still, despite their respective views, McClintock said she was able to have civil conversations with one protester in particular, who used to make the drive from West Springfield.

“One-on-one, we were able to have a conversation,” she said. McClintock shared chocolates with him, and on one hot day, he welcomed McClintock and the others to water from his cooler.

McClintock said although the group on the common used to receive more negative feedback, the attitude has shifted over time and she feels more people are starting to support the weekly standouts.

“The peace vigil started, or renewed, the whole tradition of, ‘If you want to make a statement about something, the place to do it is the Greenfield Common,’” she said. “That’s why when the (Roe v. Wade) decision was overturned, I put out the call to say ‘Hey, we’re going to be on the common.’ It’s why, when different issues come up, it’s the place to be.”

The vigils, she noted, are often organized in solidarity with larger events happening around the country.

“I’ve always thought that having something local is great because not everybody can go to D.C. or Boston,” McClintock said. “People can come by and (realize), ‘Oh, there’s that big thing happening in D.C.’”

McClintock said the idea is to plant seeds of thought into people’s minds.

“We have no idea what might come of it,” she said, “or what the ripple effect may be.”

Siano echoed a similar sentiment.

“I hope (the vigils) make them think a little bit,” she said of passersby. “There we are, standing there, with our signs. … I think it must give people a little something to think about. That’s really the purpose — to bring it into people’s consciousness because once you have it there, you can do something about it.”


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