Walking up to the Eugene Public Library location downtown on a Saturday afternoon, the colorful flags held by a small group of protesters are almost immediately noticeable. Young children exiting the library hand-in-hand with their parents look mesmerized by the fluttering bright colors and crane their necks for better views of the spectacle. The designs range from a satellite view of Earth to a full-spectrum rainbow, but all carry the message of the phrase emblazoned on the side of the latter: peace.
The protestors talk amongst themselves, covering a range of topics from politics to the daily happenings in their lives. Some of them dress up for the occasion, donning a sock monkey button-up (that, it was noted, may have been intended as pajamas) or heart sunglasses.
When it rains, they huddle under the library’s awning, but they start parading around the street corner once the sun comes out, holding up signs and striking up conversations. Standing outside the library every Saturday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. has become a part of their weekly routine. They’ve been doing it for the past 20 years.
The group of demonstrators does not have an official name, but it does have a long-established presence in the community of Eugene. The vigil first started in 2002 in protest of the bombings of Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, Trudy Maloney, a long-time protestor, says. In the beginning, the vigil was led by Peg Morton, a name that comes up frequently when talking to the group, although she has since passed.
Their focus has shifted over the past two decades, but their call for peace has remained the same.
“We’re just a bunch of old hippies who haven’t given up yet,” Julie Lambert, the “baby” of the group, says.
While they know that they can’t change what’s going on in the world, Ed Necker says being there — outside the library each week — is something they can do.
The group end’s each vigil with a repeated mantra that they adapted from a Buddhist prayer:
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free.
Peace, peace, peace.
Trudy, 73, remembers when she and Peg stood outside the Federal Building twice a week, every week. Numbers slowly dwindled from the larger demonstrations until it was just the two of them.
“In the beginning, people would yell at me, spit at me,” Trudy says. “My father told me, ‘Stand up for what you believe in, even if you stand alone.’”
In those days after September 11, 2001, Trudy says, peace was not on people’s lists. After Peg got arrested during a different demonstration, a semi-frequent occurrence in her life, Trudy followed through on her father’s words. She stood alone.
Even before moving to Eugene, Trudy’s history with activism dates back to her adolescence. She lived in Chicago during the protests outside of the Democratic National Convention in 1968 — a protest against the Vietnam war where the phrase “the whole world is watching” was born. It was a police riot, she says, and she called the officers who retaliated against them pigs.
She first remembers feeling like she had to speak up when she was around 15 years old. She grew up in a wealthy suburb of Chicago with “too much,” she says. When traveling with her stepmother to the Museum of Science and Industry through Hyde Park, where a riot had taken place, she saw a young child playing in a vacant lot full of glass. The child barely had enough clothes on. When Trudy got home, she layed on her bed and cried, not understanding why the world was so unfair.
“I can’t be complacent,” Trudy says. “I can’t say that I don’t care. I wish I could. Many times in my life I wish that I could just turn a blind eye and not care, but I do care. I care passionately.”
Throughout her life she’s carried the image of that young child with her. It “shocked me out of complacency,” she says.
Trudy strongly believes that “we were created by love to love.” To her, that means doing what she can do on her feet to “walk the talk.”
“I feel that whatever good you put out is something good,” Trudy says. “No matter what it looks like, every action has a reaction. And when you put out love, it’s a good thing to do. And it feels good.”
Since 2002, in front of the old Federal Building, Ed Necker has joined his wife, Trudy, in demonstrating each week. Today, he holds a sign reading “Vietnam Veteran For Peace.”
“We’re the vigilantes, and he’s the vigil-uncle,” Trudy says due to the fact that he is often the only man in the group predominantly made up of women.
Being a veteran himself, Ed says that wars are unnecessary and wrong. While fighting in Vietnam, he says, it became obvious to him that it was commercially-driven and didn’t have anything to do with the people actually fighting in it. As long as there is war, he feels a responsibility to speak out against it. He also says that his experience as a veteran speaks to a lot of people who respect him for what he did and listen to his perspective because of it.
For Karen Stingle, joining the group is a way that she can remind people that peace is important, but that we don’t have it yet. She first started joining around 10 years ago through her best friend, Jean Murphy, but has felt drawn back to it each week. She says she’s always liked the colorful flags and the friendly people, and, of course, the concept of peace.
“It’s just a nice little community of people,” Karen said. “I like that we’re reminding people that we need to work for peace. It doesn’t just come naturally.”
Peace is a really obvious thing, in a way, she says, and yet it is something that the world still does not have. Karen attended the first vigil in response to the war in Ukraine outside of the old Federal Building, where she was given a button of the country’s flag, something she has worn “nonstop” since. Wearing it around has been a conversation starter, she says. One day, when it rained during the group’s weekly demonstration, she coordinated her yellow raincoat and blue umbrella to further show her solidarity.
For many group members, the weekly meeting serves as a chance to talk with like-minded people while expressing and supporting a message they believe in.
“It’s a comfort knowing that I’ll see these people and that we have this in common and that we’re all working towards peace in whatever way we can,” Karen says. “We’re pretty dedicated to showing up for this, and that just makes me feel good.”
Julie says that over time she’s come to know all of the people in the group and feels bonded to them through their weekly ritual. She knows if someone is sick or unable to make it and knows when it’s someone’s birthday. People show up whether it’s cold or rainy to not break the tradition.
“It’s like everybody is special,” Julie says. “We talk a whole lot of the time we’re there. We catch up on each other’s lives and share that. It’s not just a peace vigil. It’s also a way of having like-minded people come together and experience some community inclusion that is, in a way, empowering.”
Helen Liguori, 93, typically demonstrates on the corner across the street to better spread the message through visibility. She carries a sign that says “War Is A Dead End” and points it to the side of the street with cars stopped at a red light. She enjoys socializing but is ultimately there for peace.
Since moving back outside of the library once it opened up to the public again, the small group has found that it is not uncommon for people to stop by and strike up conversations, one of the reasons they prefer the library location.
But during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the group met outside the corner of a credit union on 29th and Willamette. The location was decided when a member living in the Cascade Manor retirement community could no longer ride the bus out of concern for her health. Rather than forcing her to choose between attending the demonstrations and personal safety, the group decided to bring the vigil to her.
During the height of the pandemic, Karen says, they got lots of attention from the traffic, from beeps to peace signs. But there was very little personal interaction, which was appropriate given the circumstances, Karen says.
Outside of the library, however, people stop by for a multitude of reasons. On one Saturday, a young man with red hair and an eclectic outfit of a Fila pullover and two-toned “good vibes” sweatpants stuck around and offered up fist bumps and peace signs. He took up Jean’s offer of the extra flag, and the two conversed for the remainder of the hour.
Ed says that people have also come up in disagreement, saying that war is “inevitable” and should be supported, but the response is much more often supportive and thankful. When there is a dispute with passersby, one of the other members typically steps in to talk it out with both parties.
People approach to tell personal stories as well, speaking about their experiences with growing up in military families and their distaste for military recruitment tactics. After asking what they were protesting for, one canvasser expressed his frustrations with people only concerned about war when it is facing countries in Europe, to which the members within earshot agreed. He stayed with the group for the remainder of the hour, promising to return the next week.
For Julie, seeing everything going on in the world, the stories coming out of warzones, can be extremely overwhelming.
“I can’t do anything to stop it,” she says. “But what I can do, what I keep doing, is advocating for peace. It’s a small thing, I understand that, and it’s mostly symbolic, but it’s putting that energy out into the world.”
While she isn’t necessarily close to what is happening globally, she is close to her own community, and that is where she can start to make an impact, she says.
In mid-May, to expand their group, Helen worked to put the meeting time back onto the events section of the Eugene Weekly, where they used to announce their meetings a couple of years ago. The group whirred with excitement for the future, with at least one person mentioning the news to each latecomer that trickled in.
She hopes to one day have peace flags on all four corners of the intersection.