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Exhibit still opening eyes, hearts in Indiana

Robert Awkward at EWO in Indy
Robert Awkward, an intern with AFSC in Indiana, reflects upon the Indiana portion of AFSC's Eyes Wide Open exhibit. The exhibit was on display at the University of Indianapolis during the Indiana-Kentucky conference of the United Church of Christ. For more photos from the exhibit, please click here. Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

Nearly ten years after AFSC’s Eyes Wide Open exhibit initially opened in Chicago, the somber array of empty boots and shoes is still moving people to consider the human costs of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Indiana portion of the exhibit recently was on display for Indiana and Kentucky delegates of the United Church of Christ meeting at the University of Indianapolis. (View a set of photos here.) Erin Polley, who directs AFSC’s peace work in Indiana, helped create the exhibit in 2004 and says that the Indiana portion – now totaling 204 boots – is still shown several times each year, often at college campuses.

“There’s a recognition that the boots represent people from the midst of our lives in Indiana,” said John Eichaker, chair of the conference’s social issues and concerns committee and a volunteer guide for the exhibit. “War is not the answer to the problems we have as humans. Wars create the environment for the wars that follow.”

As she was looking at the boots, Carol Patterson of Fort Wayne noticed the name of one person whom she had as a student. “Eyes Wide Open is such a sobering exhibit,” Carol said. “To realize these are the shoes of real human beings who have been needlessly killed.... For some people, this exhibit brings the war home.”

Noting that her mother was a Quaker and a big supporter of AFSC, Carol signed up to receive more information from AFSC about upcoming events. She said her church’s peace and justice committee has been active on bullying, mentoring and gay-straight issues.

For Larry Miller, a Vietnam veteran active with the local chapter of Veterans for Peace, the exhibit portrays the human costs of the two wars, which now have a price tag topping $1.4 trillion. “These were sons and daughters, fathers and mothers,” Larry said. “These wars have affected everyone.”

Peace should always be the first alternative to a conflict, rather than war. “All the major religions in the world are based on peace,” he said. “Why do we have so much conflict and war?”

Vets for Peace and AFSC have worked closely on a number of projects in Indiana, including the Eyes Wide Open exhibit and tax day events. “Erin Polley’s just a fantastic person, just wonderful,” Larry said. He joked, “All Erin needs to do is give me a sign, and I’ll be there."