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Building Sebastopol's monument to peace

All across Sonoma County and the North Bay, all across the nation in fact, myriad memorials honor those lost to war.

Michael Gillotti believes the alternate wall of tribute he’s building in Sebastopol does nothing to detract from nor minimize their sacrifices.

The project dominating Gillotti’s life is the Living Peace Wall, panels of granite that will be capped by a cast bronze peace sign and that will be etched with the names of “those who have worked nonviolently for peace and justice.”

“I go to bed thinking about it,” said Gillotti, the 67-year-old founder and former owner of the town’s Pisces Productions massage-table manufacturing shop. “I wake up thinking about it. I want to do it right. I want to represent peace. I want to represent people who really deserve to be honored.”

His plan is to have a committee accept local residents’ nominations for honorees and to add two to four names to the wall per year. Honorees can be local people or advocates of peace and justice from anywhere in the nation or the world.

It surprised Gillotti a bit when the folks at Sebastopol City Hall told him they want the final say on the names proposed for addition to the wall, but he decided he could live with the requirement.

Officials of what is arguably the county’s most proudly progressive, anti-war city “want to make sure we don’t put on the name of anybody too crazy,” Gillotti said.

Sebastopol is not sponsoring the Living Peace Wall, but it’s allowing Gillotti to place it on a piece of city-owned land just behind downtown’s Rialto Cinemas and across Petaluma Avenue/McKinley Street from the town plaza.

After a long period of government review, Gillotti and his helpers have set the piece’s blond, arcing, concrete base. Atop it will be seven sculpted tablets of 6-inch-thick granite, the two at the ends nearly 2 feet high and the tallest, ?6 feet high at the center, ?including the peace symbol.

“The granite’s been cut, shaped and polished” at Wheeler Zamaroni in Santa Rosa, Gillotti said. The inscribing of the initial text will be done at the Galeazzi family’s North Bay Monument in Rohnert Park, Gillotti said.

That text will include a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

The bronze peace symbol that will crown the piece is being cast at the Bronze Plus Foundry in Sebastopol. Gillotti figures that when the entire piece is set into place, it will have cost $20,000.

At the moment, donations he has made himself or collected from others total about $6,500. He and his supporters are working to attract additional contributions by posting near the artwork’s base fliers that refer potential donors to the project website, sebastopollivingpeacewall.com.

“We need nominations, also,” Gillotti said. The nomination form on his website explains that any Sonoma County person can nominate someone for inclusion on the wall, and that honorees can be living or deceased and a “local, national or international person.”

Visitors standing before the wall will be able to use a smartphone, tablet or similar device to go to Gillotti’s site and read about each of the honorees who names appear on the wall.

The origins of the non-war memorial date far back in Gillotti’s evolution as a disciple of nonviolence.

“My conscience woke up in college to the Vietnam war,” he said. Rather than be drafted, he filed as a conscientious objector in 1970, then put in two years of alternative service at Goodwill and at a hospital.

One of his key partners in the wall project is friend Richard Retecki, a Vietnam veteran. As a former planner with Sonoma County and the California Coastal Conservancy, Retecki’s counsel was invaluable to Gillotti as the proposal inched through the permit and approval process.

Retecki said that, to him, the wall recognizes that “it’s easy to go to war, and it’s difficult to find peace.” He likes that names will be added year after year, because the pursuit of peace is endless.

He and Gillotti plan is to dedicate the wall on Oct. 2, Gandhi’s birthday.

It’s clear that Gillotti, more than anyone, has invested much time, money, thought and work in the wall, and he hopes it will have a beneficial impact. He likes to imagine people standing before it and finding their own peace.

“If we’re not peaceful ourselves, we’re not going to create peace in the world,” he said.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @CJSPD.

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