A witness for peace through PULSE: Seeking world peace from Pittsburgh

Andrew Foderaro, Salford

vigil2.jpgLife seems to come at you faster than you can blink. I closed my eyes for one second as I was on a bicycle climbing the continental divide and when I opened my eyes I was standing among people at a vigil in Pittsburgh.

Upon throwing yself into the long awaited waters of the Atlantic Ocean ending my bicycle trip across the United States, I opened a new chapter in my life with no idea what it would bring. The next weeks were filled with great experiences; a short term job on a farm, spending time with long absent friends, and searching for what was next.

My parents turned my attention toward PULSE (Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience). Loosely affiliated with Mennonites, PULSE seeks to bring college graduates to Pittsburgh to live in community and work in local non-profit organizations. Because of this program I am currently living in Pittsburgh’s East End with five others and working with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

Venturing into the world of “non-profit” work was like diving into a cold pool. The initial jump is intimidating but once you get in, it’s a blast. The job description I received was “we will give you a few projects and the rest is up to you, use whatever skills you have to help us out.” The Pittsburgh branch of the AFSC was opened two years ago, focusing on community development and peace advocacy. I mainly help with communication
work, writing, and event planning.

One of the main programs that I am working with is Eyes Wide Open. This exhibit spotlights the cost of the Iraq war by representing each soldier killed in Iraq with a pair of boots (our exhibit is only Pennsylvania causalities). In addition to Eyes Wide Open, I have been working to help organize peace vigils which speak out against the war and several other events.
One particular peace event on January 2, 2007, called for an end to the war following the 3000th US casualty. Although I am new to the Pittsburgh area and to the peace community, I was privileged to be one of the people who read a portion of the names of the deceased soldiers and was also given the honor of writing an article on the event for the local progressive newspaper, The NewPeople, published by the Thomas Merton Center. The following excerpt from my article gives a glimpse into the work that PULSE and the AFSC has allowed me to be a part of:

“December 31 is usually marked by joy and revelry celebrating the past year and the year to come. This latest New Year’s Eve however also carried with it a somber feel because on this particular day the total number of U.S. soldiers killed since the start of the war in Iraq reached 3000. This event really sunk in for many because of its proximity to the holiday season. It is a time for family and a time for community; not a time to have to remember the unnecessary deaths which have been a consequence of this war.

Across the country, 333 peace communities responded by holding vigils and demonstrations to remember
those soldiers who died and to call for an end to the war which has claimed them.

On January 2 in Pittsburgh, standing on the steps of the Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill, four people took turns reading one page each from the list of 144 Pennsylvania soldiers who had been killed in Iraq. Listening to these individuals were over 250 people holding candles and signs calling for peace. One of those listening to the names being read was Diane Santoriello whose son Neil was killed in Iraq in August 2004. She spoke about her experience as a mother of one of the soldiers and called for an end to this war. She demanded that we do everything possible to bring the soldiers home now…

The eight doors, covered in 188 sheets of paper, listing the 3003 U.S. soldiers’ names, demonstrated the breadth of the toll this war has had. This visual personalized the experience as many people searched for an individual name and remembered a soldier. Three thousand Christmas lights lined the stairs behind the speakers to further demonstrate how large a number that really is.

At the end of the vigil the 250 people, led by the Raging Grannies, marched to the beat of a lone drum through the streets of Squirrel Hill. They carried large white, cardboard doves and candles.Their message was clear – this war must end.”