After Epley, Corvallis Keeps Vigil Alive

Correction: Bill Glassmire was identified as a veteran in an earlier version of this story, though he approached us to confirm that he is not.

Despite the passing of activist Ed Epley on January 26, the Peace Vigil in front of the Corvallis Courthouse, which he initiated on October 7, 2001 – the day US forces attacked Afghanistan – is still alive. 

This year,several groups have taken upon themselves to stand at 5 pm in front of the Courthouse. The Advocate spoke to their representatives about their commitment. 

Bill Glassmire, a long-term peace activist recounts: “A couple of weeks after the Twin Towers came down on Sept 11, 2001, over a hundred Corvallis peace activists met at Westminster House to figure out how to respond to anticipated attack of the U.S. on Afghanistan.The group decided that one response would be an every-day vigil for peace in front of the Benton County Courthouse. Dozens of people, Ed Epley and I among them, gathered in the days after October 7, 2001, when the U.S. attacked Afghanistan. 

“There was never an end date set for the vigil (although, as years passed, vigil participants sometimes wondered whether and when to call it done). Toward the end of 2020, not long before his death, Epley told me that his commitment to the daily vigil continued because of the response – honks, waves, thank-yous – from many of the drivers and passersby. Now, the continuing war in Afghanistan, and since in other countries, proves the need to remind the public that our country’s wars are still going on.” 

Glassmire’s opinion is that “the peace vigil should continue until [the] U.S. changes away from militarism.” And, so the protest continues.  

Glassmire shows up as often as he can. 

Russell Ruby, Epley’s friend of ten years and a fellow activist who once “disrupted the function of the selective service induction center in Oklahoma City during [his] pre-induction physical (back in Vietnam War days),” stood with at the vigils daily for Epley’s last six months – a commitment he continues today.    

Bart Bolger, friend of Epley and past president of the local Veterans For Peace, Linus Pauling Chapter, spoke on behalf of the organization. “Our Veterans for Peace (VFP) members spent many hours at the daily peace vigil over the years. Ed Epley was a VFP member and, through his leadership at the vigil, Ed greatly supported our mission to educate the public about the true costs of war.”  

Bolger added:“I believe our militarist culture, in which we bathe since birth, is at the heart of public acquiescence in U.S. foreign policy. The public is easily put in fear and, like good ‘citizens,’ nod agreeably at every military action, diplomatic provocation, and economic sanction—all forms of warfare in my view. 

“One cause of this is a lack of ‘peace literacy’ in education. We feed children all sorts of rationale for US imperial expansion but give them little understanding of peaceful alternatives.”  

Rick Staggenborg, the current president of Veterans For Peace said, “While we lack the numbers locally to be present reliably every week, individual members will join those groups that do as often as possible. And as a group, we will continue to be a voice for the victims of war both at home and abroad.”  

Mike Beilstein is on the Steering Committee for the Linn-Benton Chapter of the Pacific Green Party. Beilstein said, ”Nonviolence is a pillar of the Green Party, along with social justice, ecological wisdom and grassroots democracy.  The Linn-Benton branch of the Pacific Green Party is proud of Ed Epley’s work to maintain a daily demonstration, for almost twenty years, of our community’s commitment to ending militarism and imperialism.  With Ed’s passing, we will do our best to continue that demonstration of a vision of a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.  We are hosting a recurring demonstration weekly on Fridays 5-6 p.m. at the same location.  We welcome all persons of good will to join us.”  

Carolyn Powers is a Raging Grannies – one of the groups that holds vigil on Tuesdays. “We’ve agreed that in the winter, 30 minutes is long enough for old ladies to stand out in the cold.  So, we can be found there from 5 o’clock to 5 thirty or soon after.  

“My work to keep the vigil going is not only to honor Ed, although that was the impetus behind it.  I also firmly believe it is important for Corvallis to stand up for peace and social justice; to show that this is who we are here.” 

Raging Grannies is a collective without elected officers, united by a common goal. They show up when public awareness about issues needs raising, and now they have joined the effort to promote peace. 

ORCA 

A local, small, but visible organization, Our Revolution Corvallis Allies was created during the 2015 Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. ORCA keeps the vigil on Thursdays at 5 p.m. The organization helped Bernie win Benton County and to this day promotes his platform. Holly Shutta, one of the members, told The Advocate, “I – and other members of ORCA – have participated in the vigil on occasion over the last several years. I knew him (Ed Epley) in the context of the vigil and only learned later how much he has done for our community.  

“I was reminded each time I drove by the courthouse that there are people willing to stand up and work for a better world. I have learned how one small act can set change into motion. These efforts have served as a daily reminder and motivation for me to keep trying. Ultimately, if one person is motivated to work toward Peace and Justice, by our presence, it is worth being there.” 

If you are interested in joining the vigil, simply show up any day at 5 p.m., and maybe bring a friend. If there are no others there that day, you can be the start of a group. A single person can be a lone voice, but two people is a chorus. 

The author would like to thank the Corvallis activist community who tirelessly forwarded her requests for information among disparate groups in order to find the individuals who were interviewed for this article. 

By Joanna Rosińska