The light from over seventy candles lit the Midtown sky Monday night as members of the Memphis chapter of MoveOn came together at the intersection of Union and McLean to mark the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.
"We're here as persons of conscience to note that this is the fourth anniversary of an enormous wrongdoing," said vigil organizer John Madsen. "There have not been just the 3,200 or more American GIs killed, there have been, at a minimum, fifty to sixty thousand Iraqis killed. We're not making progress. It's time to admit that a mistake was a mistake and end the bloodshed."
Madsen's comments echo those of the American public. A recent Newsweek poll showed that 69% of the American public disapproves of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, and that only 29% of the public believe we're making any progress in Iraq.
The antiwar movement has grown up, forever shattering popular media notions of what a protest looks like. The drug-fueled "hippie" in a tie-dyed shirt has been replaced by the professional that would be welcomed in any home. The passersby honking their horns in agreement made more noise than the vigil's participants. The boisterous "hell no we won't go" chants of yesteryear were replaced by somber, earnest prayers from the clergy on hand.
"May He who makes peace in the heavens bring peace to all the earth," an older man prayed in Hebrew before translating for the crowd in attendance.
Vigil organizers hope that Monday's event will be the beginning of a more unified antiwar movement. Last year's anniversary vigils were put together by different organizers across the city, and only one managed to draw more than a handful of people.
"One of the things I'd like to see is more coordination between the various subgroups of the community," said Madsen, former owner of the Dylan Blue shop in Midtown. "There seems to be, unfortunately, amongst liberals, a tendency to cluster into smaller groups. I hope that this will emerge as part of a larger coalition."
Monday night's event was one of two anniversary-themed demonstrations in Memphis this year, following on the heels of Mid-South Peace and Justice's 350-strong march through Downtown. Nationally, it was one of the 1,194 vigils organized by MoveOn's three million members.