by Chris Clemens
Each Saturday morning at the corner of Main and Union in the village of Cobleskill, you’ll find a handful of people calling for peace. Their brightly colored signs are intended to inspire a lot of different things. Some want President Trump to resign. One wants fracking banned. Another just wants people thinking good thoughts. But, collectively, the group that calls themselves the Peacemakers of Schoharie County does have one unified purpose: peace.
They seek to teach the world that war isn’t good for anyone. In an effort to achieve that, they host an hour long vigil each Saturday from 11:00a to noon. They’ve been at it since October 2001.
Every. Single. Saturday.
Schoharie County Serendipity
I should start by saying that I knew nothing of the Peacemakers before April 6, 2019. It was on that day, that I just happened to drive through the village of Cobleskill at the right time. While passing Main and Union, we noticed a handful of folks, mostly appearing of retirement age, standing politely with handmade posters and hoping for a better world.
They were not yelling. They weren’t obnoxious. No one was antagonizing. They were just simply standing in unity. Which is exactly what they wish the rest of the world was doing.
I got really curious to know more about the group, and walked up to say hello. We were pressed for time and couldn’t stay, but there was something that stirred a curiosity in me about the group. Our happenstance chat last only a few minutes, but I kept wanting to know more.
Over the course of the following weeks, I spoke to a few members of the Peacemakers to learn their story.
Albany to Schoharie
The Peacemakers of Schoharie County trace their roots to a few original members. But, there were a couple in particular that were making headlines long before 9/11.
John “Jack” Daniels began himself in 1967 by protesting the Vietnam War in Albany. A few Schoharie County locals joined him in what they called the “Silent Vigil for Peace in Vietnam” held in front of the Capitol building. Daniels was the spokesperson for that vigil until 1974 and later somewhat of a historian for the Schoharie County group.
In a booklet published by Daniels, he credits Dr. Bill Moser of the town of Central Bridge, for much of the Schoharie County anti-peace movement of the time. Moser was regularly published in local newspapers and had a reputation for being outspoken on controversial issues. Dr. Moser and his wife were among those who traveled to Albany for those Vietnam era vigils where they connected with Daniels.
Now, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about their story at this point. It makes sense that people in Schoharie County would travel to Albany to take part in a vigil at the Capitol. There were anti-war protests all across the country during the Vietnam War and it stands to reason that in a world before the internet, you could reach more people by driving an hour to be in Albany with others. But, it laid the groundwork for a future that I’ve found both intriguing and pretty noteworthy.
After the war, the group seems to have a varied history of activity. In 1980, Jack Daniels moved from Albany to Schoharie County, presumably to be closer to a network of people who felt similarly on world issues. The group continued to activate for vigils during noteworthy world events like the Cold War.
Katherine Hawkins has been active in the Peacemakers for decades and today is the defacto historian for the group. She shared that they appear to have been active in the 70’s and 80’s, but there also appear to be times of inactivity. They would occasionally find inspiration to collect again, bringing whatever light they could to one cause or another that felt pressing.
Daniels and Moser were among the more active members of Schoharie County’s peacemakers during those years, even taking a trip to Washington D.C. to take part in a vigil. While there weren’t always vigils happening, the group was always active in spreading a message through letters to the editor and hosting meetings in their homes.
9/11 Changes Everything
Ann Adams came to Cobleskill in 1978, and has been active with the group ever since. She says that after the events of 9/11, the group was really moved much deeper than before.
“That’s when things really changed”, she told me.
The thought of the United States using military efforts to exact revenge for the attacks was more than they could fathom. The Peacemakers collected once again in front of the library on Saturday, October 6, 2001. The goal that day was to share the message that war couldn’t possibly be the correct response to the attacks.
Adams told me that while the exact number each week does vary, collectively as a group, they haven’t missed a single Saturday since that October 6, 2001 vigil.
Not a single one. That’s over 900 weekly consecutive vigils.
Hawkins shared that soon after the start of those vigils, they began holding monthly lectures at the nearby Iroquois Indian Museum they called the Peace and Justice Forum. To audiences that ranged from 20 upward to 60, a rotating speaker would be selected to present on an issue that the group felt was important to the future of the world.
A transgender person shared their personal story during one lecture. Another titled “Beyond Belief: When We surrender Our Beliefs” challenged the audience to step outside their comfort zone on how they interpreted the world. David Kaczynski, the man who turned in his brother, The Unibomber, was brought in as a presenter.
For nearly three years, the Peacemakers conducted over 50 lectures that sought to reshape the way people of Schoharie County interact with their surrounding world. It was just one more way the collective hive of minds hoped to impact the world for better.
Individuals from the Peacemakers have all activated with different projects that speak to their individual interests. Peacemaker Sue Spivack has lobbied for the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Wayne Stinson successfully led the charge against New York State adopting electronic ballot voting.
Just like their signs with individual messages, each member is called to a particular movement to take action on outside of standing in Cobleskill on Saturdays.
Community Response to the Peacemakers
There is one common part to every interview I’ve done about the Peacemakers.
“Sometimes people flip us off as they drive by”, said Adams.
“Ya know those big pick-up trucks with the extra dark exhausts?” Hawkins asked me. “Sometimes they go by and purposefully blow exhaust at our corner. That sends an obvious message.”
In a county that has leaned in favor of a Democratic President only twice since 1916, it’s not surprising that there are residents who aren’t on board with a peace-loving, anti-war collective. In fact, the Peacemakers current residence at Union and Main is because of that reception.
Soon after their start in 2001, the group moved from the library to the Veteran’s Park, which is located at an awkward intersection joining five streets. That many cars means a larger audience, which made sense at the time. A local veterans group didn’t love that a park formed in their honor was used for a message that seemed to fly in the face of what they fought for and they began protesting the vigils.
After one Saturday where Main Street was lined with 100 Peacemakers and nearly as many veterans, the group decided it would be best to walk a few blocks and set up shop there. That new home is where you’ll find them every single Saturday, surpassing 900 consecutive vigils since 9/11.
While there certainly has been showings of protest to the Peacemakers, it isn’t always hate filled responses. And, in fact, nearly everyone I’ve talked with says the negative responses have quieted down.
Wayne Stinson has been a Peacemaker for what he estimates to be around two decades. He was there at the corner one hot summer Saturday when a Cobleskill Police Officer rolled up. Apparently it’s not uncommon for police to roll by and honk or wave, but this one was different.
“He got out of his car, reached in his trunk, and brought over a case of ice cold water bottles. He said he didn’t want us to be thirsty. Then, he just left!”
Stinson shared a few instances where total strangers brought them coffee, or even just came over to say hello. He said that over the years, the pendulum has swung a bit from negative responses, and people are beginning to show support.
Like Adams, he counts the overall change in local culture to be a win for their effort.
Future of the Peacemakers
There’s no denying that most members of the Peacemakers are of retirement age.
They’ve discussed their own future and have wondered themselves how to move forward and for how long. Adams told me that she was hopeful that young people would start to care more about environmental issues and get involved. But, Stinson seemed unsure that the current culture in America meant that people would commit to something like a weekly protest.
“I’m not sure what it’ll take”, he said. But, they invite anyone to stop by during a Saturday vigil to chat. Or, to walk up the street afterward and join them for coffee.
For now, the Peacemakers of Schoharie County show no signs of slowing down. They only show signs they hope will change the world for the better.
Huge thanks to Ann Adams of Sharon Springs, Katherine Hawkins of Fulton, and Wayne Stinson of Summit. All three were incredible helpful and open to sharing their stories and helping me piece together the Peacemakers’ history.
If you’re curious for more, Wayne Stinson has a blog called Schoharie Citizens for Progressive Governance. There he writes about issues he feels are deserving of more attention.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens