Tuesday 27 September 2005

Reflections: My Personal Experience During the Peace Rally/Celebration in Wash. D.C. Sept. 24

Some personal reflections composed Monday evening after I participated in part of the Sept. 24-26 "Support Our Troops - Bring Them Home Now" Peace Rally in Washington D.C. (held this past weekend):

I'm hearing very solid reports now that estimate about 300,000 of us were there at the March through D.C. on Saturday, in spite of Reuters' estimate of 100,000. The twelve hour chartered bus trip out Friday night, participating all day, and then trying to get some sleep on the same bus, riding it back all Saturday night was very physically strenuous, but so very worth it in spite of my weary bones. On Sunday, though back, I was wishing I was still there -- to join the Interfaith Peace and Justice Revival service sponsored by Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq: http://tinyurl.com/aw77u and on Monday I wished I could still be there for the civil disobedience actions they were preparing to conduct together. But I was certainly with them in spirit!

I had some very stimulating conversations on the bus on the way out Friday evening with a diversity of people from Goshen and all over southwestern Michigan. Then early on, during the march Saturday, first with a variety of other Mennonites (including a brief walk with fellow MennoLinker Duane Shenk and his daughter Celeste who also works for Sojourners now, as an editorial assistant), a very bright 13-year old boy among a large bunch of Quakers from Massachusetts whom I first thought had to be at least a college freshman - (he came up to me and talked about my sign reminding him of a quote from the philosopher Spinoza!)- a couple of ordinary citizens of D.C. whom I met in the Metro and asked me what difference I thought this march really would make, an Iraqi-American protester - one of whom gave me an an official Iraqi flag, students from all over the country, "Raging Grannies", Code Pink members, an extended conversation with the editor of the War Tax Resisters League, a Jesuit priest, several "centrist" progressives from Wisconsin who no longer trust the President, some socialist students from Holland, Michigan (on the bus with me) and some fellow peace activists from Kalamazoo I hadn't talked with for years. I could go on and on....

Here is what I heard that Cindy Sheehan said at the podium on Saturday during the PeaceMarch/Celebration: http://tinyurl.com/dk9rh -- her words, while certainly heartfelt, were not really that profound. Yet her courage, her perseverance, and her powerful persona have been a key spark plug to ignite the current peace movement. I experienced a powerfully moving moment when the Lakota (South Dakota) NativeAmericans presented and wrapped Cindy with their quilt, which a number of us got to sign last Thursday evening right here in Goshen as they made their way east with fellow Faith Mennonite Church members who are current Mennonite Central Committee workers at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota: Karl Meyer and Karissa Loewen.

I think the Peace Movement has recently been undergoing a process of rebirth/reconstitution, and I agree with some others who are expressing relief that most of the mainline Democratic Party leadership is staying out of this movement which is now gathering steam. The one prominent Democrat leader who did come and also spoke, Jesse Jackson, entered the march at the pivotal point in front of the White House, his body guards pushing their way through the marchers already there, so he could get his photo op in that spot. I didn't see this personally, but I sure heard about it from some disgusted students on the bus who did and who expressed they lost all respect for him and his antics that day. (One called him a real SOB.) Personally I'm not sure how I feel about all this. Cindy Sheehan herself certainly felt supported by him.

I took over 30 memorable photographs with my wife's Trio (cell phone/PDA/with built in camera) but later realized the resolution was so poor on them it would be an embarrassment to post them.

The most memorable speech for me, personally, came in the late afternoon, Saturday, in the midst of the concert sponsored and organized by United for Peace, which was interspersed with some rather moving oratory. I'll never forget how transfixed I was, indeed, how motivated I felt while listening to this one: (I acquired the transcript Monday evening from Democracy Now's website.)


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to NBA player Etan Thomas, among the celebrities who supported the protest this weekend. He's a basketball player with the Washington Wizards.

ETAN THOMAS: Giving all honor, thanks and praises to God for courage and wisdom, this is a very important rally. I'd like to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts, feelings and concerns regarding a tremendous problem that we are currently facing. This problem is universal, transcending race, economic background, religion, and culture, and this problem is none other than the current administration which has set up shop in the White House.
In fact, I'd like to take some of these cats on a field trip. I want to get big yellow buses with no air conditioner and no seatbelts and round up Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Trent Lott, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Bush Jr. and Bush Sr., John Ashcroft, Giuliani, Ed Gillespie, Katherine Harris, that little bow-tied Tucker Carlson and any other right-wing conservative Republicans I can think of, and take them all on a trip to the 'hood. Not to do no 30-minute documentary. I mean, I want to drop them off and leave them there, let them become one with the other side of the tracks, get them four mouths to feed and no welfare, have scare tactics run through them like a laxative, criticizing them for needing assistance.

I'd show them working families that make too much to receive welfare but not enough to make ends meet. I'd employ them with jobs with little security, let them know how it feels to be an employee at will, able to be fired at the drop of a hat. I'd take away their opportunities, then try their children as adults, sending their 13-year-old babies to life in prison. I'd sell them dreams of hopelessness while spoon-feeding their young with a daily dose of inferior education. I'd tell them no child shall be left behind, then take more money out of their schools, tell them to show and prove themselves on standardized exams testing their knowledge on things that they haven't been taught, and then I'd call them inferior.

I'd soak into their interior notions of endless possibilities. I'd paint pictures of assisted productivity if they only agreed to be all they can be, dress them up with fatigues and boots with promises of pots of gold at the end of rainbows, free education to waste terrain on those who finish their bid. Then I'd close the lid on that barrel of fool's gold by starting a war, sending their children into the midst of a hostile situation, and while they're worried about their babies being murdered and slain in foreign lands, I'd grace them with the pain of being sick and unable to get medicine.

Give them health benefits that barely cover the common cold. John Q. would become their reality as HMOs introduce them to the world of inferior care, filling their lungs with inadequate air, penny pinching at the expense of patients, doctors practicing medicine in an intricate web of rationing and regulations. Patients wander the maze of managed bureaucracy, costs rise and quality quickly deteriorates, but they say that managed care is cheaper. They'll say that free choice in medicine will defeat the overall productivity, and as co-payments are steadily rising, I'll make their grandparents have to choose between buying their medicine and paying their rent.

Then I'd feed them hypocritical lines of being pro-life as the only Christian way to be. Then very contradictingly, I'd fight for the spread of the death penalty, as if thou shall not kill applies to babies but not to criminals.

Then I'd introduce them to those sworn to protect and serve, creating a curb in their trust in the law. I'd show them the nightsticks and plungers, the pepper spray and stun guns, the mace and magnums that they'd soon become acquainted with, the shakedowns and illegal search and seizures, the planted evidence, being stopped for no reason. Harassment ain't even the half of it. Forty-one shots to two raised hands, cell phones and wallets that are confused with illegal contrabands. I'd introduce them to pigs who love making their guns click like wine glasses. Everlasting targets surrounded by bullets, making them a walking bull's eye, a living piƱata, held at the mercy of police brutality, and then we'll see if they finally weren't aware of the truth, if their eyes weren't finally open like a box of Pandora.

I'd show them how the other side of the tracks carries the weight of the world on our shoulders and how society seems to be holding us down with the force of a boulder. The bird of democracy flew the coop back in Florida. See, for some, and justice comes in packs like wolves in sheep's clothing. T.K.O.d by the right hooks of life, many are left staggering under the weight of the day, leaning against the ropes of hope. When your dreams have fallen on barren ground, it becomes difficult to keep pushing yourself forward like a train, administering pain like a doctor with a needle, their sequels continue more lethal than injections.

They keep telling us all is equal. I'd tell them that instead of giving tax breaks to the rich, financing corporate mergers and leading us into unnecessary wars and under-table dealings with Enron and Halliburton, maybe they can work on making society more peaceful. Instead, they take more and more money out of inner city schools, give up on the idea of rehabilitation and build more prisons for poor people. With unemployment continuing to rise like a deficit, it's no wonder why so many think that crime pays.

Maybe this trip will make them see the error of their ways. Or maybe next time, we'll just all get out and vote. And as far as their stay in the White House, tell them that numbered are their days.

AMY GOODMAN: Etan Thomas with the Washington Wizards, basketball player at the largest antiwar protest in Washington since the protest against the invasion of Iraq.

Postscripts: Another writer apparently agreed with my assessment! Today, (Tuesday) the day after I wrote these reflections, I noticed an article posted on Common Dreams entitled "The Speech Everyone Is Talking About: Etan Thomas Electrifies Anti-War Washington" by Dave Zirin - http://tinyurl.com/cqzbj

...and here is someone else's first person story documenting experiences quite similar to mine: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/092505Z.shtml

...of course, there are always going to be detractors and naysayers -- saying this was just "a side show." This was often said during the time the Anti-Viet Nam War protest movement was heating up. Does this sentiment, from another political corner, sound familiar? : http://www.nationalreview.com/york/york200509260814.asp

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