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Archive for Sunday, January 19, 2003

Bus ride to D.C. offers plenty of time to reflect on mission

January 19, 2003

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— The Rev. Thad Holcombe has spent the better part of his adult life opposing America's wars.

At age 62, however, spending nearly 24 hours on a cold, cramped cross-country bus trip isn't very tempting.

"I can do these things," Holcombe, director of Lawrence's Ecumenical Christian Ministries, said this weekend. "But the recovery time takes longer."

Still, Holcombe felt strongly enough about America's anticipated war with Iraq that he joined more than 30 other Lawrence residents on a three-bus caravan to Washington, D.C., for a national protest Saturday that drew tens of thousands of people.

"Above all, it's a justice issue," he said. "For me, going on this trip is a spiritual discipline."

The occupants of Bus No. 2, which carried the bulk of the Lawrence contingent, looked a lot like their northeast Kansas neighbors in many respects. They ranged in age from 8 to 78, including students, clergy, farmers, retirees and even a couple of veterans.

Not a single person on the 56-passenger bus was a Republican; however, the bus was evenly split between Democrats and independents, with a few Greens sprinkled in. And not one had voted for President Bush during the 2000 election. Indeed, a petition circulated on the bus calling for Bush's impeachment, although it attracted few signatures.

Some, including a group of teens from Peace Mennonite Church, came with church groups. Others came with political activist groups. Most, however, said they made the trip simply because they had heard about it and thought it was a good idea.

"I believe everybody alive has a responsibility to do something about militarism and excessive greed," said Pat Kenoyer, a 78-year-old nun from Kansas City, Kan. "I love this."

Others on the bus echoed Kenoyer. War is wrong and hurts innocent people, some said, while others said they suspected President Bush was pursuing action against Iraq to gain control of oil reserves there.

"It's a cruel hoax, sir, to demonize Saddam Hussein and pretend we'll liberate the people when it's for oil," said Archie Blumhorst, 66, who carried documentation of his 1963 honorable discharge from the Marines with him on the trip.

Others said it was wrong for the United States to initiate war.

"We shouldn't go into something unprovoked," said Jessica Foulke, a 17-year-old senior at Free State High School who was part of the Peace Mennonite contingent. "Being the aggressor is never good."

Annie Palmer, a 22-year-old senior at Kansas University, was among those who feared war would prompt more fear of -- and aggression against -- America throughout the world. But America's own fears after 9-11 are making it harder to resist war, she said.

"There's an uncomfortable current of thought and emotion in the U.S. right now," she said, "and people are looking for a way to be safe, to know the bad guys have been gotten and it's over."

The passengers were mixed on their beliefs about whether the protest would actually stop America's move toward war.

"Since I was little, I've thought one person can make a difference," Foulke said. "Maybe a bunch of people on a bus to Washington, D.C., can make a difference."

Holcombe agreed.

"I remain hopefully pessimistic," he said. "I still think we can affect change through the concerted efforts of concerned individuals."

Lawrence artist Bob Gent brought his children Ian, 8, and Helen, 10, with him on the trip. He said he wanted "to expose them to something important."

"A lot of innocent people's lives are at stake," Gent said. "I may not be able to stop it, but I have to bear witness against it."

-- Staff writer Joel Mathis can be reached at 832-7126.

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