By Mike Lawler
Each week, the battle is renewed.
At an appointed hour, the two armies array themselves in formation, their colors and banners waving fitfully in the slight breeze. The armies face each other solemnly across a river, each army on opposite banks, out of reach of the other. The front ranks of each side stare across the gap at their foes, and repeat to themselves the slogans that motivate them, occasionally shouting out a battle cry. The swiftly flowing river between them honks at each side of the opposing armies, the loud horns sharp and short like the staccato exchange of gunfire.
The river honks at them?
It sounds weird, but it does as this “river” is Honolulu Avenue as it crosses Ocean View Boulevard in the Montrose Shopping Park. The two armies are the Montrose Peace Vigil, who stand on the northwest corner, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who line up on the southeast corner. The cars that drive by beep their horns to show their support of one side or the other.
Every Friday from 5:30 to 7 p.m., the two groups gather on these opposite corners in the heart of this normally quiet shopping area to promote their philosophies about America’s military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. They face each other kitty-corner across the intersection, holding U.S. flags and hand-painted signs that proclaim their views. On the Peace Vigil side, 20 or 30 local residents hold signs that read, “Support Peace: Bring Our Troops Home” and “Peace Takes Courage Too,” among others. On the VFW side the display is largely of American flags, with a couple banners that read, “We Support Our Troops” and “Love Your Freedom? Thank A Vet!”
It’s a raucous atmosphere on either side, with interaction with passersby pro and con, the constant noise of cars honking their support for either side with the occasional shouted epithet.
So how did this little petri dish of national politics ever develop here in our quiet burg? It goes all the way back to 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, when a group of area residents opposing military intervention in Iraq began to demonstrate each Friday night in Glendale on the corner of Broadway and Brand Boulevard, where they still gather today. Inspired by that group, two locals brought the movement to Montrose, and they met at the flagpole one cold Friday night in January 2006. The numbers grew steadily, and they’ve been there ever since in varying numbers, vowing to stay until the U.S. leaves Iraq and Afghanistan.
A couple of years ago, a young lady married to a Marine serving in Iraq decided to mount a counter-protest. She was quickly joined by other supporters, many coming from the VFW post a few blocks down Honolulu Avenue. After trying different locations – a couple times even camping on the same corner as the Peace Vigil – they settled on the opposite corner, which seems to add a sense of visual pageantry to the weekly event.
This whole scene is so out of character for our little slice of Mayberry that one might think that it’s a bad thing for our community. Yet, commerce and social interaction thrive around the protest and counter-protest. I think some people go there specifically to watch the spectacle – this microcosm of free speech in action – and they buy a frozen yogurt or coffee while they’re there.
The two groups seem to generally respect each other. Their interactions have been amazingly peaceful, and the Glendale Police has been supportive of both sides.
As someone with the tunnel vision of a historian, I see this as local history in the making; I’ll be writing about this again in 20 years.
Drive by next Friday night and honk your agreement with whichever side you support. It’s kind of like a noisy form of voting. This is democracy in action.
Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.