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Peace activist hopes for local impact

Peace activist hopes for local impact

If Peter Looker shows up at the bus stop early, he pulls out a sign and gets to work.
Peace activist hopes for local impact
Peace activist Peter Looker often parks vehicles with peace slogans in downtown Saratoga Springs and at his Ballston Lake home.
Photographer: Bruce Squiers

If Peter Looker shows up at the bus stop early, he pulls out a sign and gets to work.

His signs declare various anti-war and pro-environment sentiments and are printed on the backs of obsolete campaign signs, and he holds them at corners and bus stops as cars whiz by.

With his current sign, “Isn’t this war dumb?” he hopes to make an impression on students when they’re on Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school buses near his bus stop on Route 50.

“They’re sitting on the buses, bored out of their minds,” he said. “I want to brand war for those kids as dumb.”

Looker, 60, has been a nonviolent political activist since he was in college during the Vietnam War, and his focus on being energy efficient and peaceful hasn’t wavered since then.

The Ballston Lake man goes to the weekly Peace Alliance gathering at the Saratoga Springs post office, has attended Lobby Days in Albany. He parks his work van for days at a time in high-traffic areas, especially in Saratoga, its windows painted with peace slogans and messages critical of government.

But his personal style is anything but harsh.

“I was never a good puncher,” Looker said.

A warm and laid-back man, Looker listens to people who disagree with him, asks them what their views are and engages them in conversation rather than get confrontational, said Dan Hurwitz, a fellow Green Party member and a math professor at Skidmore College.

“He’s really not frightened by being unpopular,” Hurwitz said.

Threats do concern Looker’s wife, Terri Roben.

“Terri used to worry that I’d get a beer bottle through my window,” Looker said.

One way to defuse an escalating discussion always works, he said — pulling out a camera, even his cell phone camera whose memory is full and won’t take any more photos.

Looker practices what he preaches, Hurwitz said.

Solar panels provide Looker’s home electricity and he runs a wood stove in the winter.

“That’s one of the most amazing things about him is how consistent he is,” Hurwitz said.

And he tends to focus on what he favors rather than what he’s against.

“I actually think Pete is helping to transform the notion of protest,” said Jim Fulmer of Ballston Spa, who met Looker through the Saratoga Peace Alliance about nine years ago.

Looker worked in facilities for psychiatric patients before starting his own business as a chimney sweep, which he still does in the traditional chimney sweep top hat. He also helped found New York State Chimney Sweep Guild.

Fall is his busy season, so the rest of the year he has free time to spend on his interests, including nonviolent protest.

Unlike some of his friends who make trips to protest at various sites around the country, Looker prefers to make an impact closer to home.

“I’d rather do things in the Capital District,” he said. “I think I’m more effective doing something here.”

He ran against both Roy McDonald and Jim Tedisco in separate Assembly races as a Green Party candidate about a decade ago.

Looker lost, but that’s OK.

“I wasn’t in it to win; I was in it to speak the truth.”

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