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Weekly Gunnison gathering for peace going strong into its second decade

by Toni Todd

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

With the exception of the gloom, Vicki Roach-Archuleta and her friends might easily coopt this unofficial motto from the U.S. Postal Service. Every Friday at high noon for more than 14 years, the Peaceniks, as they are sometimes called, stand at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Main Street near IOOF park in Gunnison. Roach-Archuleta brandishes a plain white sign with bold black letters that says, “Honk for Peace.”

Roach-Archuleta owns her own accounting and bookkeeping business in Gunnison. She’s also a Western State College graduate, with a history of civic involvement in the community.

“After the Twin Towers, there was the invasion of Iraq,” says Roach-Archuleta, and shortly after that, she says, a local peace club of sorts was formed. “We had an annual rally in the park, but I felt like that wasn’t enough. Standing here once a year was more like a party than a remembrance. So, I started coming here in March 2003.”

Nodding to her compatriots, she adds, “Many of these folks started joining me about a year later and it’s just been every Friday for 15 minutes since then.”

Butch Clark has long been dedicated to the Friday peace presence. “I was a personnel officer in the air force,” he says. Clark served as a captain in Strategic Air Command. “One of my duties was notifying next of kin of those who passed in Vietnam. I met some very brave families,” he says, “but it wasn’t something I wanted to make a career of.”

Roach-Archuleta says people tell her the war is over and ask when she’s going to quit her Friday vigils. “I maintain that the war isn’t over. We have 11,000 soldiers in Qatar, we have thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan. So, I guess we’ll be standing here forever.”

Most passers-by are supportive, but that wasn’t always the case. “In the beginning, I got flipped off a lot more. People were nastier then,” says Roach-Archuleta. “Once, there was even a man who stood on the opposite side of the street in protest of us.”

Roach-Archuleta doesn’t expect to change the world by her stance. “I’m not so naïve that I think it’s going to make a big difference,” she says. “These people that honk, they want to say something, and they’re saying it, and we give them a chance to say it. I don’t hope anything more than that people will recognize that we need peace and if they have just a moment to think about it, a blink in a lifetime, they are thinking about it, and that is all I intend to do.”

Chris Damron joins the group on broad principle. “I’m here just to protest in general, to raise awareness that nothing is the way it should be.”

“The war machine fuels a lot of the problems that go on in our country and others,” adds Nicki Anderson. “Between resources and religion, those are what cause all the wars, and neither one of them is necessary.”

About a year into Roach-Archuleta’s stand, a woman from the nursing home joined the group. Her name was Ethel. “She would sit on her little walker,” says Roach-Archuleta. “Ethel was almost 100 years old and she came until she wasn’t able any longer. She said, ‘Back when I protested Vietnam, we made noise.’ She said we needed to make noise, too. So, she brought the first Honk for Peace sign and I’ve carried one in her name ever since.”

Roach-Archuleta says she’s learned a great deal over the years about diplomacy and getting your message across without anger. She describes a forum to discuss the war, created just after the invasion of Iraq. The event was held at Western State Colorado University and included a retired general, a moderate professor and Roach-Archuleta as a panel to lead the discussion. “I was supposed to represent the extreme left,” she says. The general shared his experience of being spit on when he returned from Vietnam. Roach-Archuleta says there were things she said back then, in anger and frustration, that she would never say today.

“My husband is a 100 percent disabled Vietnam veteran,” she says. “So, this is not out of any disrespect at all. In fact, I’m standing here for the soldiers.”

After the inauguration of president Trump, Archuleta put out an e-blast inviting folks to join the group at the corner in solidarity for peace. “We had about 25 people who showed up that day,” she says. “There was an awful lot of anger. I tried to mellow that out a bit. Our intention is to be here peacefully.”

Roach-Archuleta says people often ask her why there aren’t more college students with her on the corner every Friday. “There’s no draft,” she says.

The group still hears a rare shout of “Get a job,” but far more people are supportive. “Mostly, we get lots of honks, from all different sorts of people,” says Roach-Archuleta. As she speaks, a dump truck rumbles by and gives a hearty blast. ‘See?” she says. “People on foot walk by and say, ‘Honk, honk!’”

The core group has grown close over the years. “I would miss my friends if I wasn’t here,” Roach-Archuleta says. “Snow, rain, wind, hot sun—we’ll be here.”

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