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From Iraq to drones: Pilgrims continue longtime protests

Since shortly before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a group of local senior citizens, mostly Pilgrim Place residents, has gathered each Friday afternoon, demonstrating for peace on the corner of Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway.

It started as the United States ramped up to war in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A group of pacifists began gathering around the flagpole at Pilgrim Place every day in a silent vigil.

“From that group, some of us came up with the idea of creating interest in Claremont,” longtime demonstrator Jim Lamb recalls.

It’s been 13 years and the group shows no signs of tiring in its appeal for the United States to end the war in Afghanistan as well as its entanglements in hotspots like Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Syria. On a good day, as many as 25 people show up.

Mr. Lamb, whose background is in education, has only rarely missed the chance to hoist his sign. One of his preferred slogans is “peace veteran.”

Mr. Lamb, who is coming up on 90, enrolled in the US Navy Air Corps at age 17, right out of high school. He said he was training to become a radio gunner, “but after they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they told us all to go home.”

People seem to appreciate his military service.

“Every now and then, someone comes up and shakes your hand,” Mr. Lamb said. “Even in the hottest of times, when we were sending Marines everywhere, every now and then a Marine in uniform would come up and shake our hands. Sometimes they would say, ‘I agree with you, but I’ve got to go.’”

Motorists’ responses to the demonstrators’ yellow signs, calling for an end to war, drone strikes, oil greed and the human and financial toll of long-term combat, have changed radically over the years, according to Mr. Lamb.

Nowadays, even the GOP says that the war on Iraq, based on the now-debunked assumption that the country had weapons of mass destruction, was a mistake. More than a decade ago, however, many viewed questioning the war as the equivalent of opposing US soldiers.

“Initially, we had people who might give us the middle finger. On a couple of occasions, we were physically threatened,” Mr. Lamb said. “Someone said he would like to mow us down with his car or with a machine gun, so on and so forth. Generally, they were someone who might slow down or pull over and stop to make their presentation.”

Occasionally, Mr. Lamb and his friends would try to engage in a dialogue.

“Once, a woman was screaming at me at the light. I took a chance and went out to her and asked why she was upset,” Mr. Lamb recalled. “She said, ‘Because my son is in Iraq. She broke down crying and we just stood there. I had my hand on her shoulder.”

Nowadays, Mr. Lamb and his fellow protestors are more likely to get smiles, honks and waves than “the bird.”

“Young people stop and talk with us all the time, be they from the high school or be they from one of the colleges,” he said. “They are terribly busy with their own life and schoolwork, and they are doing some very important things on their own campuses, sometimes to do with the peace/violence issue.”

On hot days, strangers sometimes pass out water to the demonstrators. The Inland Valley heat can pose a challenge. Mr. Lamb used to have a preferred corner where he would stand in the sun. This past March, however, he collapsed and went over backwards and had to be taken to the hospital. After that, the group said he could only join them if he agreed to sit on a chair in the shade.

Much has changed since the first peace vigil, both on the international political scene and among the demonstrators. Jim Lamb and his wife Joann came to Pilgrim Place several months before 9/11. An ardent member of an international women’s group, she joined him faithfully at the corner until her death in April of 2012. “A couple of us folks have now died,” Mr. Lamb noted.

As the saying goes, though, the more things change the more they stay the same.

“I think the amount of violence worldwide is unfortunately growing,” Mr. Lamb said. “It’s discouraging but, on the other hand, for us, in terms of our convictions, it means we must continue even more vigorously if possible, getting more and more citizens to join us in standing up for nonviolence and peace.”

Mr. Lamb believes if the United States were to become less hawkish in its policies, the world would be a better place.

“In my own view, the United States operates an empire,” he said. “If you check the number, for example, of foreign military bases all over the world, 95 percent are US bases. And we are increasing the number of drone bases.”

He believes that terrorism evolves because of, not in spite of, foreign intervention.

“I think almost every country in the world, large or small, is proud of itself,” he said.  “And to have foreigners come in and try to run your country or to control your military, etc., that is a good way to create terrorism in any country.”

And he believes our conflicts have wreaked havoc on Americans. “More and more young men and women are coming back in very bad shape,” he said.

What, one might ask, can one group of protestors, in one little city in the furthest reaches of Los Angeles, do?

“I think that standing up publicly for what you believe in does impact some people,” Mr. Lamb said. “I believe that witness does impact some people and they begin to think about your message and why you keep doing it week after week, year after year, and doing it in a non-violent way.”

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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