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Courtesy photo
Bromfield sixth-grader Moriah Arnold, center, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow activists including Jesse Jackson, Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon. Below, she reads her speech at the microphone.

HARVARD — The Bromfield School sixth-grader Moriah Arnold is a 12-year-old who one day wants to study medicine at Harvard University, become a doctor and join the Peace Corps.

For now, she’s pretty busy with activities that include snowboarding, soccer and a burgeoning hobby as an activist.

On Jan. 27, Arnold gained international attention as the sole youth speaker at a 100,000-plus anti-war rally at the capital building in Washington D.C. Speaking alongside activists such as Jesse Jackson and Jane Fonda was an experience she described as intimidating but rewarding.

“I was really nervous,” she said. “It was a good feeling that I was the only youth there speaking. I was really excited.”

The sequence of events that brought Arnold to Washington began several weeks ago when she circulated a petition asking congress to pull the U.S. military out of Iraq.

After collecting approximately 100 signatures, the petition was forwarded to Massachusetts delegates and the online group that provided it,

Arnold’s mother, Debra Vanderwerf, said the latter was done just to let the group know what was done with the petition, but it led to a request for Arnold speak at the rally.

That was on Jan. 22, which left Arnold brainstorming to write a speech and her parents scrambling for travel accommodations. Since then, Arnold has appeared on Good Morning America and been featured in the Boston Globe and on BBC.

Speaking from her Old Schoolhouse Road home, Arnold said she’s not getting swept up in all the attention. Instead, she’s hoping the publicity will influence others to get involved and call for an end to the war in Iraq.

Arnold said she supports our soldiers, but thinks the fight is being carried out at a great cost and isn’t helping the war on terror. Like many Americans, she was deeply touched by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, a sentiment underscored by a picture of her as a young girl on top of the World Trade Center.

“When it (the terror attacks) happened, she said, ‘Oh my God, I was just there,'” said Vanderwerf.

While the majority of coverage in recent days has been positive, Arnold said several blogs have viciously retaliated to her anti-war message.

“There are Web sites that said I’m an ignorant little *****, and one said my parents should be slapped with wet cement,” she said. “It doesn’t really bother me. They have their own opinions.”

Anything in the public eye draws different reactions, she said, but she admitted she was surprised at what that first “Google” search revealed.

“At first I was like, ‘Oh my God, who would write that?'” she said.

The attacks either come from people with issues or who don’t know her daughter is only 12, said Vanderwerf. Either way, she said detractors have a right to their opinions just like Moriah.

“People think her parents fed her these lines,” she said. “This is all her.”

The duo credited their activism to watching the global warming video “An Inconvenient Truth” several weeks ago. Vanderwerf said it made them realize they need to get involved to make the world a better place.

“I guess I was like a lot of people who complained and never spoke up,” she said. “Now that we have a little taste of it, we want more rallies.”

Looking ahead, Arnold said she wants to help organize an international pen-pal program or get involved with a global youth peace initiative. Whatever it is, Vanderwerf said her daughter wants to help make the world a better place.

“She feels that a whole new world has opened up in front of her,” she said. “Even though she doesn’t know what the next step will be, she wants to make a difference.”

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