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Traveling peace vigils visit small towns.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

CRESWELL - Although weekly peace demonstrators here support the coalition forces fighting the war, they still oppose the war.

Their minds, like the minds of many Americans, often seem a split screen, much like Thursday's late-afternoon sky - bright blue in the east and a dark-and-stormy charcoal in the west that one demonstrator likened to "hellfire and brimstone."

The rain and sun and more rain Thursday afternoon seemed a reflection of how this group - and many others - now seem to view the war in Iraq, including the small group that has been gathering on Thursdays near the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that cross Oregon Avenue.

"We're trying to invite people from both sides," said Scott Burgwin, a 51-year-old retired Forest Service worker from Cottage Grove who since December has been hosting what he calls "traveling peace vigils" in Creswell, Cottage Grove and other small and typically conservative towns such as Drain and Oakridge.

The response has been colorful, to say the least, but since the war began, emotions and tensions have escalated, said Burgwin, a bespectacled man with salt-and-pepper hair that pushes back into a ponytail. Last week, his group of 30 to 40 regular demonstrators in Cottage Grove faced a counter group of pro-war demonstrators with signs that read, "Kick Saddam's ass and take their gas" and "Choke a hippie, save a soldier."

Most people who drove by Thursday reacted to Burgwin's group with a honk and waved in support. But some were downright nasty.

"You people get a life!" screamed a man with a small American flag attached to his car antenna. "There are people dying over there for you!"

Another man in a pickup truck angrily pumped his fist as he yelled: "George W. Bush all the way!"

The group definitely takes its lumps, along with a few driving rain showers. But they come out, they say, to support each other, and to support the smaller groups that are still trying to get the word out about peace over war.

"Terribly ignorant people frighten me," said Anita Russell, a 50-year-old Springfield caregiver, referring to the hecklers. "The answer is much quieter. There are all these really loud sound bites, and we can't be heard."

About two months ago, Russell and her friend, Jeannie Echenique, 53, a substitute teacher, organized peace vigils on the Franklin Bridge that connects Springfield with Glenwood.

"We are trying to create a presence for other people who are for peace but who are afraid to say how they feel," Echenique said. "Especially since the war started."

Don McCormack, 47, a retired dentist from Springfield, met Burgwin at a peace vigil in Springfield last week. He came to Creswell on Thursday to support his new friend. He held a sign that read, "Frodo has failed. Bush has the ring," a reference to the main character in the Lord of the Rings.

A couple of weeks ago, McCormack and other peace demonstrators were standing on the Franklin Bridge when a large man in his 30s approached them, ripped their signs and flags out of their hands and punched an elderly protester in the face. A group of women demonstrators jumped in between the two.

"After that, I feel it's really important to get out and support these smaller groups," McCormack said.

In shops and businesses along Oregon Avenue, folks had differing views about the weekly demonstrations.

"It's very American," said Alan Bennett, who manages his wife's chiropractic business near the corner of Oregon Avenue and Front Street. "They have a right to protest. But I'm one of those who are for the troops. We have a lot of patients who have relatives over there who are probably fighting right now."

Next door at the Apple Annie's coffee shop, 17-year-old Krystina Shank was oblivious to the demonstrators. "I didn't even know they were there," she said. But once she knew, she said it bothered her a bit "that they don't support their nation. But if they want to do it in the pouring down rain, that's fine by me."

Back by the tracks, Burgwin was reacting to a motorist who had just made an obscene gesture at him. "I've never felt so attractive before," he said.

VIGIL FOR PEACE

Scott Burgwin and his traveling peace vigil will gather to promote peace in Iraq and support for American troops in Cottage Grove's Opal Whitely Park from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. today. They will also be at the park Sunday for a candlelight vigil from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

CAPTION(S):

Peace activist Jeannie Echenique of Springfield joins six others on a corner in Creswell as part of a traveling rally against the war. P e a c e p r o t e s t s
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Title Annotation:Emotions have escalated since the war with Iraq began, but activists continue to try to spread their message; General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 4, 2003
Words:798
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