War protest grows on Whidbey Island

From left, Clyde Johnson, Patricia Brooks and Jack Tingstad make a statement on the corner of Main Street and Highway 20 in Coupeville recently. Others have protested Bush administration plans for a war against Iraq at several sites on South Whidbey along Highway 525. - P. Christine Smith
From left, Clyde Johnson, Patricia Brooks and Jack Tingstad make a statement on the corner of Main Street and Highway 20 in Coupeville recently. Others have protested Bush administration plans for a war against Iraq at several sites on South Whidbey along Highway 525.
— image credit: P. Christine Smith

One person can start a movement. One person can get others thinking.

One Coupeville man is doing just that, standing on a street corner, sending out a message that is so intensely important to him that he felt compelled to find a tangible way to make others aware of his point.

He said it doesn't matter to him if people agree with him or not, as long as they're thinking.

Jack Tingstad has been a Coupeville resident for 32 years, and he's a retired Coupeville Elementary School teacher. He's not generally known for rocking the boat or taking a strong political stand. In fact, he describes himself as apolitical.

But the stance of the Bush administration to consider attack Iraq is so appalling to Tingstad that he took to a small-town street corner with a simple sign in protest. It's message was simple. It had only three words: No Iraq War.

Tingstad began his vigil Sept. 3 and has stood on the corner of Highway 20 and Main Street in Coupeville every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning since.

His cause is gaining momentum, attracting supporters who now have joined him on the corner, passersby largely honking car horns in support, the protesters say, and a few verbal and sometimes obscene comments from motorists who disagree with the message.

"Someone drove by the other day and said 'You're old enough to know better,' " Tingstad said Saturday. "And that was really curious to me. What am I old enough to know better about -- that peace is not a way to deal with people, rather than destroy them?"

A few moments later a carload of young men made a left turn off North Main Street and went south on Highway 20. The driver, with his window down, screamed something about fallen soldiers dying for the protesters' freedom, tossing in a four-letter word for emphasis.

"He's got the right to do that," said protester Clyde Johnson, a semi-retired engineer and Coupeville resident who has joined Tingstad. "And basically our standing here (is our) right to ask and protest ... anything, for or against."

The small group of protesters join a movement that has been growing during the past month. In addition to the Coupeville picketers, another group of sign-waving war opponents put their point of view in public every Wednesday and Saturday morning near Bayview.

Both Tingstad and Johnson draw parallels between the current difficulties in the U.S. and United Nations' dealings with Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and the Cuban missile crisis. The men say that diplomacy worked then to avert a crisis, and it should be given every chance now.

The similarities Tingstad sees between the two events 40 years apart hit him close to his heart. His son was born during the Cuban missile crisis and he remembers how he felt then.

"We lived through that, not knowing if it was the last day for our family and the whole world. And, that kind of feeling came back," Tingstad said. "I really think of myself as a world citizen, and so I'm very concerned about how people, children, everyone feels, in the entire planet."

Johnson agrees that diplomacy worked well during the Cuban missile crisis, and that the current administration needs to try again with Iraq's leadership to come to a peaceful agreement.

"President Kennedy and Premier Kruschev had at least the courage and the vision to risk, and I mean risk, diplomacy, from the Cuban missile crisis in '62," he said.

Getting Saddam Hussein to agree to and abide by the U.N resolutions regarding chemical and nuclear weapons inspections is worth the effort, the men said. President Bush has not been able so far to gain the support of U.S. allies, other than Great Britain, for an attack on Iraq.

"I guess there's some reason why 63 percent of the people in Europe, in a BBC poll, apparently thought the greatest threat to world peace is George Bush," Johnson said.

Johnson said he understands that sometimes war is necessary, but only after all parties involved have tried peaceful steps first. He said war should be the last option.

Waving a sign reading "No Oil War II," Johnson said standing protesting is his way of prompting people to look into the situation with Iraq before rushing to a decision to support a first strike.

"Mine is a plea for people to start asking hard questions, and not just go marching down the road blindly without questioning."

Patricia Brooks of Coupeville, a former journalist, joined the group on the corner Saturday with her sign, which reads, "Bombing Arabs = A terrorist attack. First strike is Un-American."

She said it is important to let people know they can do something if they don't agree with the president on this issue.

"I can't believe that that many people are actually thinking that we should make a first strike," she said. "That's so against what America is about."

Darrel Berg, a retired United Methodist minister from Coupeville stood quietly holding his sign, reading, "Pray for Peace." Berg waved back as passing motorists honked in support of his message, and took it in stride when others drove by, calling out, "Boo." He even seemed unphased by obscenities called out by some drivers.

"I'm here because my soul tells me to be here," Berg said Saturday. "When I say 'Pray for peace' that's what I'm preaching."

While the group says that most of the feedback they receive is favorable to their message, they say some may fear disagreeing with the president on this matter is be anti-American. People can be against military action and still love America, they said.

"You can be for peace and still be patriotic," Johnson said.

However, others say the protesters are naive.

"I don't think they understand the whole picture," Bob Barber said Monday, as he ran errands in Oak Harbor. Barber retired from the Navy after serving nearly 23 years. However, he said a first strike on the country of Iraq is not necessary.

"War is like a street fight," Barber said. "Take out the instigator and it's over."

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