American flags waved fiercely in the wind on both sides of the road leading up to the main entrance of Camp Ripley. Dominance of the red, white and blue was about the only thing similar to the two parties occupying the area early Friday afternoon and more than just the road between them kept them separate.
On the right, a peace sign replaced the typical 50 stars dotting the blue square of the flag, as the Little Falls Partners for Peace and Occupy Little Falls held a vigil to demand immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Group members were also voicing for the end of drone bombing campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and looking for a peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war and the dispute over Iran’s nuclear energy program.
“We aren’t against the military,” said Robin Hensel, an active member in organizing the peace vigil efforts Friday as well as one at Camp Ripley this past August. “And in fact, we do support our troops, but we support them so much that we don’t want to seem them harm others or harm themselves.
“We want to seem them out of war.”
Friday marked the 22nd recognition of the International Day of Peace, a day which encourages efforts to peacefully resolve armed conflicts and disputes between nations. It was in honor of that day that brought Hensel and a group of more than a dozen out to Camp Ripley with brightly colored signs and the peace symbols predominately visible, including on Coleen Rowley’s shoes. Rowley, an FBI whistle-blower and peace activist was the main speaker at the vigil.
“We are out here today because it is International Peace Day and there are actually a slew of other things that ironically fall around this time,” said Rowley, who resides in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities. “Wednesday (Sept. 19) marked the 4,000th day since the beginning of the Afghanistan war, which is now being interpreted as a global war.
“And the reason we are out here (at Camp Ripley) vocalizing our peace efforts, is because they (military personal) are the ones who understand this the most. I’m from a military family and they are some of the people who best understand these issues.”
But on the left side of the road were those who felt they were supporting the troops by not opposing the war and instead opposing the other side.
“They (those attending the vigil) wouldn’t be able to do what they are doing right now if it wasn’t for our troops,” said Gigi Dambowy, a civilian who joined military veterans showing support for the troops. “It’s about showing respect for those who have fought to give us what we have.”
Peace was still a strong point for Dambowy and her group as well, playing a slew of heartfelt American songs, including “God Bless the USA” among others while standing armed with U.S. flags.
“They ought to thank god for the troops that did fight over there,” said John McDougle, a Vietnam veteran.
And Hensel, who is running for a Little Falls City Council seat in November, has been active in fighting for her rights as of late. She previously filed a lawsuit against the city in U.S. District Court maintaining the city violated her free speech by forcing her to take down political signs on her property.