Voices of the Bay

In Search of Peace

For Betty Torphy of Little Compton, the activism is never done

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On Martin Luther King Day in 2003, some citizens gathered at the Little Compton Town Commons to peacefully protest against the lead-up to the Iraq War. The following Sunday they decided to gather again, in protest of President George W. Bush’s upcoming State of the Union address. Fifteen years later they have continued to meet every Sunday to raise awareness for peace and social justice issues. Stalwart founder Betty Torphy coined the group the Sakonnet Peace Alliance. She credits the Religious of Sacred Heart nuns at Manhattanville College of which she is a graduate for instilling the conviction for her activism. A former high school English teacher, Betty received a master’s in the Art of Teaching from DC’s Trinity College and a master’s in psychology of Religion from Andover Theological School. She and her family have lived in Little Compton since 1991. The Sakonnet Peace Alliance meets every Sunday at the Little Compton Town Commons at 9:30am. All are welcome to join their peaceful vigil.

We had nuns who kept evolving and were on fire. What I remember most about Robert Kennedy’s death is standing in front of the plaza in NYC and collecting signatures for gun control. That’s how long we’ve been doing this [work].

We thought our protest would be a one-time event. We had maybe 30 people show up. A founding member was a WWII vet, which gave us a lot of credibility. People have come and gone, some have died. The original eight still come. We have grown, shrunk, and are bigger now probably due to the turmoil in the country. We picked a time when people pass by to attend one of the three churches. The group has only missed two Sundays [due to blizzards]. It wasn’t easy at first. People would get out of their cars and shout at us. I would always go up to speak with them. Little Compton Town Hall gave out bumper stickers with ‘Support Bush and the Troops’, so the town probably didn’t want us there. Now we get honks and cheers. It’s rare to get negative reaction. It’s really changed.  

We’ve sponsored speakers including Steve Oleskey, who represented six prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. For a decade I created a weekly ad for the Sakonnet Times around the issues of war and peace. We’ve collected clothes for veterans. All types of activities. We broadened our message and created banners, which address issues from race, gun control, immigration. People come with an article, poem, song, statistics on veteran suicides, anything to inform and educate.

I call it Cathedral of Peace on the Commons. We are there witnessing, creating community, present to each other and what we can do in the world. We have kept the conversation going.