CONDUCTING A VIGIL

A vigil at its best is a delicately wrought instrument for communication. Its notable features are composure, watchfulness, and persistence.

There are several styles, each with their own purpose. One emphasizes just being there. Relatives who gather at a mine entrance when disaster strikes don’t organize themselves. They can do little except stay there. Another common form is the religious observance, often accompanied by special disciplines such as fasting, reading or staying awake for protracted times.

In others, persistence is the key. The vigil at Fort Detrick, the germ warfare research center in Maryland, lasted for 22 months. For one full year the vigil was kept everyday from 7 am to 5 pm, not missing an hour. The Times Square vigil against the Vietnam War occurred every Saturday from 1964 through 1973. In 1960 a thousand Quakers stood in silence for two days around the Pentagon. This vigil emphasized inward reflection, composure and maximum impact on those who saw it.

Individual vigils reflect the style of the person doing them, usually emphasizing the opportunity to talk with those who show interest. Silence may be appropriate if the vigil is protracted or well publicized. Otherwise, talking seems more useful than silence. Perhaps one of the most effective single person vigils was conducted outside the White House protesting the Vietnam War. President Nixon had become so irritated at the vigiler’s presence that he ordered his aides to get rid of the protestor.

The following suggestions are offered for groups numbering from a few people to a few hundred, for a time lasting several hours or several days.

Establish the pattern, possibly a line or circle, where the vigil can be readily seen, and not easily disrupted by passersby. But be careful not to block entrances, sidewalks or passageways.

Stand far enough apart to extend the line as much as practicable (e.g., an arm’s length or two apart). This increases the visual impact of the group, and minimizes temptation to chat and socialize.

Try to maintain silence and composure while on vigil. Those who talk with each other on line will be perceive by observers as more interested in each other than in communicating their message.

If a passerby wants to talk, suggest that the two of you go aside to do so, while the vigil continues uninterrupted. Answer brief questions on the spot.

Leafletters should be separated from the vigil line.

To talk, smoke, or rest, leave the line and go to one side. Choose a special spot where coats, gear and other items can be left and kept under observation. Otherwise, the clutter around a vigil of several hours can assume distracting, even amusing proportions

A vigil intently kept can become very tiring. Individuals may withdraw for a time. Possibly at half hour intervals the whole line can walk around in an orderly fashion, such as an oval, for a few minutes. Do this more often on cold or rainy weather. This should not be considered as a "break" in the vigil but as a part of it.

Monitors should avoid scurrying about, or giving loud instructions to distant parts of the line. If geography permits, stay behind the line. Minimize the need to give instructions by holding advance briefing or giving an explanation sheet to the participants.

Those at each end of the line can do much to set the tome, by their demeanor and by faithfully maintaining the spirit of the vigil. They are usually the first to be seen, and instantly communicated something at the group. Example is by far the best way for participants to help each other remember and maintain their purpose.

The silence line should not be seen as an imposed structure to present a certain image, but as a design providing a wide range of opportunities for the participants. Some like to concentrate on eye contact with those who pass by, in cars or on the sidewalk. Others will consider it a religious observance. Yet others will think or reflect, or just stand there.

Use signs sparingly.

For particularly long vigils, wither individuals or the group may wish to keep a diary of thoughts, conversations, and follow-up opportunities. This material can later be used for reports, etc.

Large vigils require careful organization and planning. The larger the vigil, the more difficult it is to start. Avoid herding techniques that sometimes result when situations go awry. In brief sessions, as participants to help get things underway with patience and good humor.



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