Portland peace activists: 'It's time for light'

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PORTLAND — Nearly 10 years ago, terrorists flew two passenger airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, destroying two pillars of Manhattan’s famous skyline and killing more than 3,000 people.

The terrorist attack – the deadliest on U.S. soil – changed the everyday lives of every American.

Since the attacks, scores of U.S. soldiers have died in two wars, each of which costs millions of dollars a day and billions of dollars a month. The National Priorities Project estimates the U.S. has spent nearly $1.3 trillion and counting – as of Monday afternoon.

The government, meanwhile, has seized wider swaths of power to collect information, while citizens have given up privacy, in the name of national security.

Officials have greater power to secretly eavesdrop on conversations, while airports are installing security scanners that can produce naked images of boarding passengers.

While some say the loss of privacy, as well as the increased vigilance against potential threats, are necessary for security, there is a group of people who believe the last decade has been a time of darkness in the U.S.

But it’s a darkness they hope to overcome, one flashlight at a time.

Peace Action Maine wants to ring the Back Cove Trail on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with people holding flashlights.

“Yes, we can, push back the darkness with our flashlights and lanterns,” said Wells Staley-Mays, a PAM community organizer.

Staley-Wells said the darkness started with calls of vengeance the day after 9/11. Then, the U.S. decided to attack Afghanistan, despite the fact that most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a U.S. alley.

The darkness spread further in 2004, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, he said.

“The last 10 years have been very dark,” the 63-year-old said.

Organizer Grace Braley said word is getting out among community groups who were looking for a way to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The event is a way to look forward, rather than dwell on the mistakes of the past, she said.

“I think people really get it,” she said.

So, how many people would it take to encircle the Back Cove, which can be seen from Interstate 295? Braley has done the math.

“I got out my calculator,” the 77-year-old said.

There are 14 quarter-miles in the 3.5-mile trail. She said 60 people standing 20 feet apart would fill a quarter-mile. That would require 840 people to encircle the cove.

Braley said the group plans to aggressively recruit people in the days leading up to the Sunday, Sept. 11, event by handing out fliers.

Braley said 600 people have committed to attend, but “we’re hoping to have more than that.”

Braley said flashlights will be turned on shortly after dusk at 7:30 p.m., so people should arrive anytime after 6 p.m. to get in position. Attendees should bring the brightest flashlight they can and a chair to sit in, she said.

Braley, who lived in Yonkers, N.Y., in 2001, said people have been receptive to her message that America’s response to the 9/11 attacks has degraded its reputation around the world.

And not war is not the answer to all of the world’s problems, she said.

“There’s a restlessness,” she said. “People think the world should be able to solve its problems without building more weapons.”

While some groups are ready to shine lights in the name of peace, Braley said she understands there will be skeptics.

But she is not deterred.

“You could say we’re completely naive that it would make a particle of difference,” she said. “Yet, we have to look forward. We don’t have a political agenda to blast the past. We want to look forward.”

“The sun rises first on Maine,” Staley-Mays added. “We’re hoping the light we shed will spread to the rest of the country.”

For more information, or to sign up a group, call 774-1995.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings

Sidebar Elements

Wells Staley-Mays, left, and Grace Braley, of Peace Action Maine, are organizing “It’s Time for Light” in Portland on Sunday, Sept. 11 – the 10th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.