A lonely vigil against an unpopular war

by Jordan Green

Three years and a day after the invasion of Iraq, with a poll showing a plurality of Americans favoring immediate withdrawal, what constitutes the Greensboro peace movement during Monday evening rush hour is three generations of a dedicated family of four and a thundering drum ensemble of equal number.

The Koritz family has been holding a weekly peace vigil outside the L. Richardson Preyer Federal Building at the corner of Eugene Street and Friendly Avenue since October 2001. For those who are counting, that marks not the invasion of Iraq but the commencement of US bombing in Afghanistan following al-Qaeda attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

On many Mondays over the past four and a half years the vigil has consisted of Richard Koritz, a 61-year-old retired postal worker who serves as the NC Letter Carriers Association representative to the AFL-CIO, his wife Sandra and their 12-year-old son Marcus. Before the invasion of Iraq, Richard Koritz said the Greensboro peace vigil drew up to 200 people. After the bombing began, participation dropped. Now they gauge their success by honks, of which Sandra Koritz often keeps a tally. The count started at about 50 in late 2001, and in recent weeks has reached 378 per hour.

‘“A lot of people that picketed got discouraged when we went to war,’” said Richard Koritz, whose barrel-chested build and thick New England accent convey a personality by turns gruff and compassionate. ‘“I didn’t expect that we were going to stop this. We’ve become too comfortable. We’ve been conditioned to have an individualistic mindset and it keeps us weak.’”

He noted that recent polling has indicated that a majority of US soldiers want to come home from Iraq. The fact that US public opinion is now tilted in his direction is not lost on him. A poll released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on March 16 found that 50 percent of Americans favor bringing the troops home now; 44 percent want to keep military forces in Iraq and 6 percent remain undecided. Forty-nine percent view the war as a mistake compared to 45 percent who view it as the right decision.

Explaining why such a small number of people have mobilized to protest the war, Koritz said: ‘“The Democratic Party in Washington has no principles. The people are politically confused because there is no political party expressing their will.’”

Monday brought one new voice to Greensboro’s peace movement ‘— Richard Koritz’s mother, 86-year-old Sara Koritz, who had relocated to Greensboro from Quincy, Mass. two days earlier.

Heaving a picket sign reading ‘“support our troops, bring them home’” at oncoming traffic as a cold, steady rain beat down, she smiled with enthusiasm for her cause.

‘“The war is a sin against humanity, and the death of young people is too high a price to pay for the evil that this country is doing,’” she said. ‘“I’ve been an activist since I was sixteen.’”

Despite the rain, Richard Koritz and his son carried a banner declaring ‘“North Carolina Labor Against the War: No More Blood for Oil’” as the two women marched with picket signs, all four of them methodically repositioning to face traffic in sync with the changing of the lights. Behind them four members of the Cakalak Thunder drum corps hammered out an energetic samba beat.

‘“I’m out here with bronchitis,’” Richard Koritz said. ‘“I told my doctor I was going to be out here. He said to me: ‘I don’t recommend it, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.””

At 6 p.m. the Koritzes folded up their banner. Richard Koritz called all eight of the demonstrators into a huddle.

‘“We appreciate Cakalak drum corps joining us,’” he said, ‘“because you’re the greatest patriots of your generation, because you’re saving the lives of people. Your courage is inspiring.’”

Then they ended by shouting in unison: ‘“In our unity lies our strength.’”

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