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A NIGHTLY CIRCLE OF HOPE <br> 'PEACE CAMP' OFFERS NONVIOLENT ALTERNATIVES

All they are saying is "give peace a chance."

At Buffalo's Bidwell Park, a small group of local college students have been holding a "Peace Camp" since the terrorism events of Sept. 11. Each night, and sometimes during the day, they gather to sit and talk about possible nonviolent responses to terrorism.

"Basically, we've created a safe space where anyone who wants to can come by and talk about peace," said one of the students, Rebecca Newberry, 19, of the University at Buffalo.

"It seems like everyone in our country is talking about going to war. We're talking about peace."

Organizers of the camp are Newberry, fellow UB student activist Christopher Rota, 22, and Thomas O'Sullivan, 23, a recent UB graduate. The three spent all day Sept. 11 watching television coverage of the terrorist attacks.

The horrific TV images filled them with anguish about all the deaths and suffering -- and fear of what may come.

"I kept thinking, what is going to be the next step?" Newberry said. "If our government responds with violence, the terrorists will respond with more violence against us. It's going to keep the cycle of violence going. All three of us decided, 'We have to do something.' "

The friends decided to begin meeting at the small park at Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway. Each night since the attacks, different people have come -- as many as 30 on some nights.

Last week, Rota and seven other people sat in a small circle around a single candle, which they lit in memory of the victims of terrorism.

"John Lennon's song, 'Give Peace A Chance,' keeps popping into my head," Newberry said. "People have brought guitars and other instruments, and played quiet music."

Rota said passers-by generally have reacted in a positive way. Some have honked their car horns and given a "thumbs up" signal. Some have stopped and joined the discussion. One woman thanked the group and said she plans to come back again with her children.

Charles Cobb, executive director of the Western New York Peace Center, saw only one negative note. A car cruising Elmwood was festooned with American flags but also displayed some signs that included extremely vulgar references to Arabs.

When asked how long he plans to continue the peace camp, Rota answered, "As long as we feel there is a need for people to hear about peace.

"I think back to the peace demonstrations of the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War. Those gatherings started with small circles of people, just like ours. As time went on, they drew thousands."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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