Anti-war Islanders continue activism

Several times each week, Rob Queisser carries some red plastic numbers to the sign in his front yard on Lakeway Drive.

He uses the numbers to update the “US DEAD IN IRAQ” tally on the white wooden sign set in concrete next to his low fence.

“I just think it’s my duty,” he says.

Queisser (pronounced “kwise-er”) and his wife, Cindi Williamson, erected the sign two years ago to remind people about the human toll of the war they both oppose. They say people’s comments about the sign offer a barometer of public sentiment about the war.

“We get a lot more positive than negative,” Williamson said.

That wasn’t always the case. Queisser and Williamson moved to Bellingham three years ago from Mercer Island, where they had a similar sign on their fence overlooking a busy street. That was earlier, when public support for the war was stronger.

One person unhappy with the Mercer Island sign mailed them a letter, made from cutout letters, threatening to behead them. When they moved to Bellingham, they waited a year before erecting the sign on Lakeway.

“Let’s just have a year without death threats,” Williamson said.

The new sign still sparks negative reactions. Anonymous people have left critical letters. An egg and a beer bottle have been tossed at their house. Vandals have broken or damaged the sign at least a dozen times, they said.

Queisser fixes the sign every time, making it stronger as he goes.

At least three people have contacted Bellingham officials to complain that the sign might violate city sign rules. Jeff Capell, an assistant senior attorney for the city, says the complaints lack merit.

Queisser and Williamson say expressions of support for the sign have become more frequent in recent months, arriving in the form of signed letters, “thank-you” visits to their front door, vases of flowers, offers of money for repairs, and honks, thumbs-ups and two-finger peace signs from motorists.

With more than 20,000 vehicles passing by daily, their house on Lakeway near Racine Street is well-situated to publicize their views on the war.

The west side of the sign has the running total of U.S. deaths, and the message “655,000 Iraqi dead.” The east side says “Impeach Bush” in large letters, with “Sign supported by Racine St. Neighbors” below, a reference to statements of support and offers of repair money from people nearby. A small U.S. flag and night lights complete the fixture.

Queisser, a pacifist, worked in a hospital in the 1960s as an alternative to military service. A retired health-care administrator, he’s also a jazz and a classical musician, playing trombone and bass. Williamson works at Village Books, plays piano, draws, and restores and sells antiques. They have four grown sons and four grandchildren.

Their small house is full of CDs, musical instruments and books. Queisser referred to a book with a line by Clarence Darrow, the famous lawyer and civil libertarian, to describe his views.

Here it is: “True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.”

Dean Kahn is a columnist with The Bellingham Herald. The photo is by Niki Desautels. Both reprinted with permission from The Bellingham Herald.

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