As our group of mostly baby boomers stands at our usual intersection, the driver of one car passing by honks his horn and lifts his second and middle fingers, forming a V for peace. Two cars later, we’re greeted with what we call the “one-fingered peace sign.”
It’s another Saturday morning demonstrating for peace and justice at our little corner of the world in Setauket.
For the past 17 years, we’ve been there, every Saturday morning from 11 to noon at the bend of Route 25A and Bennetts Road, in all kinds of weather. Our small band of peace activists, ranging in number from 12 to 20, at times has planted itself on piles of snow. When it rains, we huddle under ponchos or umbrellas. Most challenging are days when the wind forces the owner of a sign to scramble after it. The signs proclaim, "War is costly — peace is priceless,” or urge "Fight poverty, not poor people," and the like. Some members are passionate about one issue over another, but we all support each other.
My friend Myrna has said we could fill a book with our experiences exercising our free speech at this busy intersection. Dozens have stopped to talk with us, to agree or disagree, but each one has a story. Some people thank us with gifts of bottled water when it’s a scorcher, hot chocolate and doughnuts when it’s bitter cold. Recently, a woman brought us a pizza, thoughtfully sliced into 16 pieces.
Then again, some not-so-friendly passersby have turned down their car windows and admonished us to “Go back to Russia!” or “Get a job!” The latter always makes us laugh — many of us are retired. Over time, a few of us have succumbed to sitting rather than standing.
We’ve seen bicyclists for peace, truckers for peace, Geeks for peace (ones in “Geek Squad” cars), even dogs for peace. For years, we had a canine mascot named Benny who wore a coat embellished with our name — The North Country Peace Group — and buttons with ’60s sayings such as “Give peace a chance” and one showing John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in for peace.
We’ve become a neighborhood fixture, and in 2006, the local paper named us “People of the Year in Civics.” One member calls our spot “sacred ground.” Other individuals and groups, too, have demonstrated there, a place to practice grassroots democracy at its finest.
Over the years, we’ve grown into a family of sorts. We celebrate milestones like births and marriages, and when a loved one is lost, we grieve together. We’ve sweated out medical scares too, but mostly we bolster each other when bad news grips our nation: another mass shooting, death of a champion of freedom, a violent flare-up in a corner of the globe.
One especially frigid day, I put in some “overtime.” For an hour after my friends left, I manned the corner alone, amazed at the support from motorists. One man, juggling coffee, stopped and tried convincing me to run for public office.
Looking back, I think it had more to do with the sight of one bundled-up soul braving the elements to rally for what she believed in. We Americans, regardless of where we fall on the political spectrum, tend to value that indefatigable spirit.
Reader Susan Perretti lives in Setauket.