Noe Valley Voice November 2002

Florence's Family Album:
A Mother for Peace

By Florence Holub

Voice writer emeritus Florence Holub wrote this column almost 12 years ago (for our February 1991 issue), a few weeks after President George Bush had launched the Gulf War. Last month, Florence, now 84, once again found herself making peace signs and marching in a national protest, this time against a new mobilization for war by our current president, George W. Bush.

My mother was carrying me during World War I, and I was born with a faint brown birthmark on my neck resembling the map of the United States--and I love this country. But I remember the horrors of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, especially Vietnam, for it was in the 1960s that San Franciscans began to speak out in unison against war.

The first peace march began with only about 50 young people, and increased over the years to hundreds and then thousands of nonviolent protesters. One year, Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park was completely filled to hear Coretta Scott King, on the same day that her husband Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to an immense gathering in Washington, D.C. When we honor his birthday, we also honor the cause he led for justice and nonviolence.

I fondly remember the "Summer of Love," and all of those beautiful young "flower children," with their long hair, peace buttons, beads, colorful clothing, and sandals or bare feet.

One day, our middle-aged neighbor, Ted Kley, who was dressed in a business suit, happened upon a "love-in" at Dolores Park. He was so enchanted by the spectacle--the dancing and the music--that he sat down on the grass and took off his shoes and socks to be a part of it. It was contagious.

My man Leo caught the bug, too. Early one Saturday, he went over to Geary Street to pick up some photography supplies, an errand that should have taken him about an hour. When he failed to arrive home by dinnertime, I got ready to call the police. Then he appeared, smiling from ear to ear. It so happened that as he was driving through Golden Gate Park, he'd noticed a large, happy gathering in a meadow, and decided to take his camera and check it out. Leo found a joyous assortment of picnickers listening to music by the Grateful Dead. He got pictures of Pigpen and some Hells Angels in a kindly mood, and discovered some old friends who invited him to share their spread of bread, cheese, and wine. A group of young people were dancing and singing "Give Peace a Chance." Thanks to all of them and those who joined in the protests, the long Vietnam War finally came to an end.

Twenty years later, we are at war, and the peace marchers have begun again. On the morning after the bombing of Iraq [the first American air strikes began Jan. 17, 1991], I put on my hiking boots and arrived at the Federal Building to demonstrate my apprehension, carrying my hastily made sign depicting the peace symbol (as I remembered it) superimposed over our little blue planet Earth. I circled the building, holding my sign high, until a young protest monitor left her post and hurried over to inform me that I had the wrong sign for peace. Instead of three lines pointing downward, I had drawn two, which is the logo for the Mercedes-Benz automobile! I remedied my mistake on the spot, and continued on.

There were 1,000 participants at that rally, chanting and singing antiwar songs. They included people of all ages and races--mothers, Quakers, federal employees, and even one "Pinolean for Peace." (It took me a while to figure that one out: Pinole is a little town north of Richmond.) Participating in this event was personally uplifting, and for me, a positive gesture for peace.

Riding home in the J-car, we passed Everett Middle School, heard the voices of children singing, and saw a heartwarming sight: a group of school children standing on the stairs holding handmade signs, with flowers and messages that said, "Peace, No War."

The Saturday march on Jan. 19 began at Dolores Park, with Noe Valley well represented, wouldn't you know! The entire day was nonviolent, and had a festive spirit, like an old-fashioned Fourth of July, with a happy blending of the many diverse segments that make up America the beautiful. There were 100,000 marchers in all--teachers, union workers, musicians, Gray Panthers, Asian-Americans, Latinos, Catholics, Jews, gays, the handicapped in wheelchairs, and babies in strollers.

And there were thousands of banners and signs ("It's Not Who's Right, It's Who's Left," "What If Kuwait's Main Export Was Broccoli," etc.). There was also a bit of derisive chanting: "Send Bush, Send Quayle, Send Neil Bush When He Gets Out of Jail!" The sentiment "We Support the Troops--Bring Them Back Alive" was right on. But the most memorable sign, for me, was Gandhi's statement: "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

We support our fighting men, but we cannot support our leaders' war policy. Sincere negotiation seems like a more civilized undertaking, and in my opinion they should let the mothers in the countries involved do it. We would all start talking about our children--their welfare and their future--and the war would be over.