On Monday, March 19, a peace vigil in observance of the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq was held at the fountain on Main Street.
Genesee Valley Citizens for Peace (GVCP), founded in 1972 as a response to the Vietnam War, co-organized the vigil with Geneseo Ecumenical Peace Organization (GEPO), a local faith-based group. They were joined by other members of the Geneseo community, as well as a large group of university students. The vigil lasted about an hour, with prayer, songs, announcements of names of American soldiers and Iraqi civilian casualties, and other speeches including ones by Geneseo students Julian Fenn, a sophomore, senior Harrison Watkins, and sophomore Emily Pisacreta.
The vigil drew around 250 people despite the cold weather. There were an estimated 50 to 75 community members, plus at least 125 or more students. Dr. Margaret Matlin, distinguished teaching professor of psychology at Geneseo and her husband Dr. Arnold Matlin are both members of GVCP and were impressed with the turnout. "We went to a demonstration for the whole city of Rochester on Sunday (the day before the Geneseo vigil), and about 500 people showed up," said professor Matlin. "That was a great turnout, but Rochester is a large city. It's wonderful to have this many people at a peace event in such a small village," she said. Dr. Matlin added that "Monday produced some historic events: the huge peace demonstration in Geneseo and two other events, one in Caledonia and one in Lima. To my knowledge, Livingston County has never seen peace events in three different villages in one day," he said.
The speakers carried a strong message at the vigil. In his speech, Fenn stated, "It is our duty to tell our community, our national government, and the world that this war is not being fought in our name. We have an obligation to those who have fallen, those who are fighting, and to ourselves to do nothing less." Following Fenn's speech, Watkins exclaimed, "I'm calling out to all the students here. We cannot reason away our time and energy anymore. There isn't a draft to unify us like in Vietnam, but that isn't an excuse. Instead of feeling helpless, feeling overwhelmed, look within yourself." Among the many people on Main Street, there was dissent in at least one attendee, but the individual(s) were unavailable for comment.
The Geneseo students who helped spread word of the vigil on campus were pleased with the crowd, considering the weather and the short notice due to Spring Break. "I think that for what we did, we got a really good turnout," said sophomore Fiona Murray. "We have a duty to use our privileges as students to take action against the policies of our country that we don't agree with. We can't just sit back and not have a voice."
After the vigil, a large group of students went on to march through the university's campus to further voice their feelings regarding the war.
GVCP has planned future events in support of the peace movement in the future, including a peace walk on Sunday, April 25. "You never know what the effects of any peace activity are," said Dr. Matlin. "However, we added 60 names to the GVCP list, and we are able to tell politicians that this was the largest peace event in Geneseo in at least 35 years!"