Sebastopol unveils its 'Living Peace Wall'
Sebastopol embraced its pacifist sensibilities on Sunday with the dedication of a “Living Peace Wall,” panels of granite that will be inscribed with the names of advocates for peace, justice and nonviolence.
The monument at a prominent downtown location, capped by a bronze peace symbol, was unveiled to a crowd of about 150 people who joined hands and sang hymns and anti-war songs.
Alicia Sanchez, one of the honorees whose name will be etched into the granite and who has been a leader on issues involving immigrants, women, war, civil rights and the environment, said “nonviolence is super, super hard to do.”
She said people are capable of confronting violence with peace and compassion, not anger. But she also told the crowd to “be angry when you see injustices.”
It will “give you a feeling of wanting to do something about it,” she said. “We do have to do it with love. We have to do it with peace.”
Sebastopol famously declared itself a non-nuclear zone decades ago, but its laid back, counterculture vibe belies its roots in a fight that gave the town its name.
Richard Retecki, a Vietnam War veteran who spoke Sunday, noted that Sebastopol was named when a prolonged bar brawl in town drew a comparison to a battle in the Crimean War of 1855.
Sebastopol, he said, “has gone from a violent beginning to a peace town.”
The Living Peace Wall is across from the town plaza, just west of Rialto Cinemas on a small piece of city-owned property at the corner of McKinley Street and Laguna Parkway.
The wall was created by Michael Gillotti, former owner of the town’s massage table-manufacturing shop.
The monument includes quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez. Encased in the concrete pedestal are personal prayers for peace, what Gillotti described as “metaphysical support for this peace wall.”
Ryan Gallagher, 35, a Sebastopol resident who attended the ceremony, said the wall will give the right impression to visitors who come from the Bay Area and across the country.
“It’s to show we have to have peace in the world — that determination,” he said. “We have to keep focused on the good things.”
The Rev. Tara Steel of the Center for Spiritual Living invoked a sense of community and connection for the event.
“We are one in peace, compassion, hope and presence,” she said.
Gillotti, the wall’s creator, noted the monument is only a physical structure.
“Real peace begins within ourselves,” he said.
City Councilwoman Sarah Gurney said that when she first heard of the proposed peace wall, “it resonated for me.”
She noted that Jim Corbett, a local musician known as “Mr. Music,” five years ago dubbed Sebastopol “Peacetown U.S.A.” The nickname stuck, as evidenced by the slogan worn on T-shirts of some of those in attendance.
Another honoree whose name will be on the monument is Barry Latham-Ponneck of Windsor, who became an activist after the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979 and went on to oppose war, the cutting of ancient redwoods and other policies and practices he views as unjust.
He wore a Bernie Sanders for President 2016 T-shirt, which he proudly showed off to cheers from the crowd.
Now in the grips of Parkinson’s disease, Latham-Ponneck spoke haltingly, but with conviction.
“I’m still trying to make a difference in the world, trying to figure out why there’s so much pain and hatred and so many people suffer so greatly,” he said.
Others whose names will go on the monument include the late South African President Nelson Mandela and Sonoma County’s George Houser, who died in August at the age of 99.
Houser was an anti-apartheid activist and civil rights advocate who co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality and organized an early freedom ride in 1947 to test a new Supreme Court decision banning segregation in interstate travel.
Gillotti said the monument still needs donations, which can be made on the website sebastopollivingpeacewall.com.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or email@example.com. On Twitter@clarkmas
Editor’s note:The story has been updated to clarify George Houser’s involvement in the Freedom Ride movement.