On a cold and windy March Friday, eight women gathered at 4 p.m. at Bayview Corner. All were dressed in black and bundled up against the chilly wind that whipped their hair and threatened to sweep away the white banner they held in gloved hands.
“Women in Black Standing for Peace” proclaimed the long banner, and each woman held one part of it as they silently spaced themselves along the grassy roadside near the park and ride lot.
These women in black have been standing for peace at South Whidbey locations on the first Friday of every month since 2006. The group began after one of its founders saw women in black standing for peace in Coupeville.
“I heard about it from Susan Berg in Coupeville,” said Shanti Loustaunou of Langley. “They were standing for peace on the overpass over the highway there.”
So Loustaunou, Lynn Hays and Linda Morris talked it over and decided to start a South Whidbey Women in Black group.
At first, the South Whidbey Women in Black stood in Langley at the corner of Second and Anthes. Then they moved their vigil to the sidewalk up the hill from the ferry landing in Clinton. As many as 50 women joined the vigils in the early years, some coming from as far away as Oak Harbor. One woman rode the paratransit bus and brought her wheelchair. Another brought her newborn baby to the monthly vigil.
Finally, the group decided they could make more of a statement by standing on the grassy area near the stoplight at Bayview Corner, where cars have to slow down.
They don’t wave signs or chant slogans. Theirs is a silent vigil, a solemn reminder that violence in its many forms touches all our lives.
“Our standing here for an hour is a silent conversation about peacemaking.” Hays said. “We stand as reminders of peaceful communication. Someone has to stand for peaceful resolution of conflict.”
Women in Black (WIB) began in Israel in 1988, according to the international Women in Black website, as a response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli Jewish women began to stand in weekly vigils in public places, usually at busy road junctions. Starting in Jerusalem, the number of vigils in Israel eventually grew to almost 40.
Today, countries reporting WIB vigils include Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Maldive Islands, Mexico, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA. Organizers estimate that altogether 10,000 women have been involved. What these groups have in common is a desire for peaceful resolution of all conflicts, large and small, worldwide.
“WIB started in Israel with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Those issues are important to me, as is making a statement against militarism and violence against women, ” said Karen Erlander, who also stands for peace on Saturday mornings with another group of South Whidbey residents at Bayview Corner.
“It’s not dangerous to stand for something here on South Whidbey like it might be in other parts of the world,” said Erlander, as she acknowledged sisters in other countries where women don’t have a voice.
Mully Mulally of Langley, who has been with the local group since its inception, said, “Women lose sons and daughters, husbands, brothers, friends to war. Standing here, I’m holding a space for those who’ve been lost to violence. It’s important to be counted as a peacemaker.”
“We have to ask ourselves what a civil society means to us. Our humanity is our commonality,” Mulally said. “Standing here gives me a different perspective on loss, and grief.”
Loustaunou added, “You can’t achieve liberty through violence. Violence is the antithesis of peace, and it always causes suffering. Governments shouldn’t be allowed to use violence to solve problems. Violence is power and control over others … it’s an addiction. The only power people should have is over themselves … the power to control their own anger, hatred and jealousy.”
Margaret Moore of Clinton has also been with the group since 2006.
“It’s important to stand in witness, not to forget the struggles, terror and trauma people are going through in our world,” said Moore.
For Moore, standing in silence for peace once a month is a time of meditation. She said, “It’s a time to remember others. My mediation is to breathe in suffering, breathe out healing.”
“I saw them standing there a couple of months in a row and thought it was something I should do too. I’ve been with the group last 4 or 5 years,” said Susan Bennett.
Another group member Barb Hutton said, “I believe in peace. War is an act of terror. Once a month is not too much to ask of myself to stand for what I believe.”