Optimism for a Barack Obama win on Nov. 4 has prompted a pair of local fixtures to announce the end of their weekly vigil against the Iraq War.
Since early 2004, Don and Pat Simmons have appeared on the Higgins Avenue bridge nearly every Tuesday at 5 p.m. with poster boards held high. Good weather and bad, the two consider it their duty to remind Missoulians of a distant war easily forgotten.
“We hope it kept the foolishness of war within the consciousness of a broad group of folk,” Don says.
Adds Pat: “It’s something we felt we ought to do, and now we’ve done it.”
If things don’t go as they expect, the Simmons say they’ll return to the bridge. However, both are in their 70s and, though active, find the vigil physically taxing. They used to stick it out from 5 to 6 p.m. Now it’s more like 5:15 to 5:45.
“An hour of standing on the bridge with two pairs of replacement knees is more than the body likes to do,” Don says.
An ever-changing cast of protesters has joined the Simmons over the years. Lately, retiree Carol Marsh has become a regular with the group.
“I’ve been an anti-war activist since Vietnam, and I think the U.S. is often a bully in its wars,” Marsh says.
Marsh, an avid activist, edits the quarterly newsletter for the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. While in Washington, D.C., last November with the activist group CodePink, she personally delivered copies of Naomi Wolf’s The End of America to the entire U.S. Senate.
But Marsh can’t say how large a difference she’s made.
“That’s the thing about activism—you don’t get a report card,” Marsh says. “You just hope you get people thinking.”
For Pat, the vigil hasn’t just been about Iraq. Her father served in World War II, left when she was in eighth grade and returned when she graduated high school. He no longer knew her as a person.