By Brian Lockhart
NORWALK — Folk legend and peace advocate Pete Seeger joined his voice last night with those of a new generation of anti-war activists forged after Sept. 11, 2001.
“This is what life’s all about,” Seeger, 85, said in a hallway of the First Congregational Church on the Green a few minutes before the September 11th Families For Peaceful Tomorrows rally. “Retiring and watching the world go to hell is no way to stay optimistic. Every time I get a crowd singing with me, I get a surge of optimism.”
Seeger, a New York resident, was the guest artist at the event, which marked the arrival in Norwalk of a traveling memorial stone sponsored by the families’ group.
The granite tablet left the Democratic National Convention in Boston July 25 and is being pulled in a cart along the road. It should arrive in New York City Sept. 2 for the Republican National Convention. It reads: “Unknown Civilians Killed in War.”
Civilian casualties constituted 80 percent of the deaths in war during the 20th century, according to a Stonewalk pamphlet.
“Our losses are very public,” said Daniel Jones, a September 11th Families For Peaceful Tomorrows member whose brother-in-law, Bill Kelly Jr., was a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. “(The stone) is a reminder of losses much less public and much less known to us.”
Jones said that after Sept. 11, he and his wife did not want the United States “using our family’s grief” to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We know how badly it hurts” to lose a loved one in the crossfire, he said.
Afterward, Jones and Seeger embraced.
“Keep on,” the singer told Jones.
About 200 people gathered in the church last night, listening to comments from speakers and being led in song by Seeger and Ledell Mulvaney of the Peacemakers group.
Some, such as Rick Daly, a Vietnam veteran from Stamford, showed up because they are Seeger fans and did not realize it was a peace rally.
Daly said he is “not in favor of war” and believes it is time for American troops to leave Iraq, calling the soldiers’ deaths “senseless.”
But Daly had a different view of the war in Afghanistan. “I don’t know what (the peace activists’) answer would have been. We had to send a message to somebody” to discourage future attacks.
Seeger, invited to attend the rally by longtime friend and Weston resident Bruce Taylor, told the group that mankind has an inclination for violence, but human brains and society have evolved far enough that war should be avoidable.
Seeger said he is more optimistic about the fate of the world than he was after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan during World War II.
“I say we have a 50-50 chance,” Seeger said. “If we are saved, it’s going to be not by any one organization or any one slogan or government, but by tens of millions of little things going on. This walk with the big monument stone is just one.”
Beverly Eckert, a member of the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, has walked with the memorial tablet through Fairfield County. Last night, she offered the crowd what she viewed as currently the most practical way to achieve peace.
After losing husband Sean Rooney in the World Trade Center, Eckert and other families pressed for the formation of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, which published its report last month.
Though she said the report was not “the definitive work of investigation and accountability we had hoped for,” Eckert said its recommendations to restructure America’s intelligence agencies must be adopted to secure the peace.
“There are two wars going on right now that can be attributed to poor performance, structure and training in the intelligence community,” Eckert said, referring to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We can avoid war by reforming our government, and the time to do that is now. . . . I’m appealing to you as voters. Reach out to Congress, Democrats and Republicans.”
In an interview afterward, with Seeger on guitar in the background leading the group in song, Eckert stood outside on the church steps and reflected on how different she was from the 85-year-old activist before her husband’s death.
“Totally complacent. Nonpolitical. Trusted my government,” Eckert said. “Thought war was somebody else’s problem.”