As Cliff Harrison stands in vigil with fellow Quakers on a bitter February afternoon outside Harvard Square's Au Bon Pain, tourists and townies alike interrupt their casual strolls to witness a protest for peace in the Gulf.
In the hope of spreading their message to as many onlookers as possible, Harrison, a five-year member of the religious group's Cambridge Meeting, and a dozen others pray for peace while handing out leaflets, as they have been doing for more than a month.
"Quakers have historically put forth a testimony against the use of coercive force," says Harrison, 41 a full-time spiritual worker who lives in Medford. "Such action breeds bitterness and hatred, which is not the way to deal with others to promote peace."
Harrison says that combat should have been viewed "only as a last resort," but "in this particular war, it is clear that communication was still possible before it started."
Emily Sander, clerk of the Cambridge Meeting and a member since 1964, says that she is pleased with the response the Quakers have received.
"I think there has been an enormous response to our vigils," say Sanders, 59, a retired social worker. "A lot of people have come up to us and asked where they can find a place of worship. And at our religious gatherings there has been quite an overflow as if it were the '60s."
Harrison says that the Quakers, also knows as the Religious Society of Friends, have held vigils six afternoons per week since Jan. 4, with gatherings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Park Street, and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in Harvard Square He adds that the Cambridge group, which is more than 50 years old, has been working on the Persian Gulf situation since mid-November.
Quakers across the country
Harrison says that most of the meetings across the country have adopted identical positions regarding the war.
"Quakers across the country are very active in this matter," he says. "We are united in opposition to the war in that we are all holding vigils and writing letters to let the public know how we feel about the issue, and to convince them that the war must be stopped.
Harrison estimates that there are approximately 120,000 Quakers in the United States, concentrated in several hundred meetings. He says that in New England alone, about 75 meetings have banded together in the efforts.
The diversity within the 700 members of the Friends Meeting at Cambridge intrigues Harrison, who says that more than 300 actively participate.
"It's very diverse community in terms of age, background and profession, and many come from surrounding areas as well as Cambridge," he says.
Sander says that although the Quakers are working towards ending the immediate conflict, efforts for peace must not cease when the war does come to an end.
"What we're beginning to focus on as well is that we have to do more between wars to prevent them," Sander says. "The seeds of war could be addressed before they lead to future wars."
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