Friday, February 28, 2003
Carlisle marchers join NYC peace rally
What compels people to board a bus to go to a Peace March in New York City? For me, the single-minded push of the Bush administration to go to war in Iraq regardless of inspectors' findings, NATO allies' reservations and without diplomatic efforts, seemed wrong. War is not a football match with people cheering on the sidelines. Innocent women and children die in war, and soldiers come home in body bags to grieving families. War should be a final, last resort, not something done preemptively, unilaterally and without compelling evidence of wrongdoing. I am not a pacifist, but I cringe at the cowboy assertions of our President. So, with only a couple weeks notice, I signed on to go to the Peace March. I wanted my voice to be heard.
The First Religious Society in Carlisle has been ably apprised of anti-war efforts by Ernie Huber. He let us know of the Justice for Peace Group's bus. When Ernie went on vacation, George Bishop jumped in to coordinate the efforts. He set up a sign•making workshop at the church on Wednesday, February 12 for members and their friends. A small group of us showed up. Poster board and markers in hand, we expressed our own feelings on signs. Ours was a low-tech, home-grown protest. My sign said, "Mandela Was Right" because I agree with Nelson Mandela that pursuing this war in the manner our administration is, will lead to a "holocaust". We can expect large scale retaliation if we preemptively strike. After years of different administrations of both parties trying to rid the world of nuclear arms, this administration won't rule out their use against Iraq.
Catching the bus in Concord
Saturday I got up at 5 a.m., threw my food and water in a knapsack along with my digital camera and cell phone and carpooled with Susan Stamps to Concord where the bus would meet us. The bus arrived before 6a.m. and 50 of us boarded. From Carlisle there were Steve and Roberta Spang, Susan and me, Bob Wallhagen, Margaret and Eric Darling and their teenage son, Nick. We were joined by Grassroots for Peace folks from Concord, Stow, Acton and folks from the Unitarian Church in Concord. En route we were led in song by a woman from Stow. I had made copies of the humorous song by the Raging Grannies, "Bomb Iraq". To me, the situation lent itself to satirizing. Our government seemed to be irrationally pursuing war at all costs. We were on orange alert and the administration was recommending people stock duct tape and plastic to wrap their houses to keep out chemical or bacterial agents. I couldn't help thinking about ducking under my desk and covering my head in grammar school, as if this would help in the event of nuclear (not nucular) attack.
Upon arrival in New York, we each took up our signs and banners. Different groups headed off in their own directions. We made for 50th and Fifth Avenue where the Massachusetts contingent would be meeting. There we found Ellen and Ernie Huber. Soon George Bishop, Karen Byrne, Kathy Rubenstein, and Diane Miller, the Interim minister at First Religious Society, who had come on a separate bus, arrived. On the corner was a reporter from the Boston Herald who was interviewing us as representatives of the Massachusetts protesters. He had interviewed Ernie and then spoke with Susan Stamps. We were clearly a local, human interest story for him and he called his photographer to get to us to take a picture. This was no easy request, as there were thousands of people streaming down 51st Street on route to the rally at the UN on 49th and First Avenue on the East Side of Manhattan. The photographer, John, did arrive and took our picture.
Heading toward the rally
We then began our march toward the rally. The Herald photographer, reporter and their friend joined us and marched along. I got a chance to ask them where they were from and what their personal opinion on the war was. John, the photographer from Dedham, was on the fence, but he thought we should give more time to negotiations. As we marched, we encountered people of all kinds • black and white, gay and straight, young and old, labor workers against the war, Boston College for Peace, Vermont against the war. There were New Yorkers and those of us from other states. There was a group of veterans chanting anti-war cadences as they marched up Fourth Avenue. It was moving to see such a large group in uniform with some who appeared to be in their 70s and 80s, who had clearly "been there," expressing their dissent against this war.
There were many handmade signs, many humorous: "Duct and Cover" on one and another with two coffee cups on which were pictures of the heads of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. The sign said, "Empty warheads have been found in Washington." Throughout there was good humor. Some people had made makeshift drums and we joined in on rollicking drumbeat chants, "Whose streets? Our streets!" "Peace when? Peace now!" "What is democracy? This is democracy." Police lined the streets doing their jobs. In general the police were polite and the people were good natured about their presence. There was frustration, however, since when the crowd, we included, got to Third Avenue there was no further going east toward the rally. Police barricaded the streets, directing us north. At each intersecting street, more police blocked our way sending us further north. After seven blocks of being told to continue north, we realized that we were not going to be able to get to First Ave and the UN. We began heading back.
Barricades along the way
We debated whether the police needed to barricade this way to provide safe access. It seemed that a march up one of the big avenues would have been easier for the police and more satisfying for us marchers. The city had denied the group a marching permit and given a permit for 100,000 to rally at the UN. I spoke with a policeman. While he had been given no figures on the numbers of marchers, he said that it was clearly more than anticipated. We had heard that 8,000 busses were scheduled to come into the city. If that estimate was right, there were 400,000 of us, plus those who came from suburbs by commuter train, those who came by subway, car and those who lived in the city. So, my unscientific estimate put our numbers over half a million.
We encountered one more set of roadblocks at Times Square, where there were several dozen police in riot gear. Apparently, trains going north had for some reason been stopped and lots of people had gotten out at Times Square and decided to rally there. This spurred the city to dump a large number of police into the square. This was an unsettling sight. We weren't there to cause trouble, nor had we seen many who were.
By 5 p.m. we had reassembled at 40th Street and Eighth Avenue to board the bus for home. We all made it. We shared our impressions and experiences of the day, made announcements, shared food, read and snoozed. By 10 p.m. we were back again in Concord. We had held witness and made our statement. There was satisfaction in being involved in a worldwide protest which included London, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Tokyo and Sydney, among others.
Front page of the Herald
The next morning I went to Daisy's Market to buy a Herald to see if maybe our picture was inside. To my surprise, there on the front page was my "Mandela Was Right" sign amongst the sea of people on 4th Avenue. Visible was my coat, Susan Stamps and the Darlings. Ernie Huber was liberally quoted on the front page article about the Peace March and on page five was a great half page picture of the Carlisle contingent. We had been heard!
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily represent those of the First Religious Society, the Carlisle Mosquito, or any of the other groups or individuals mentioned. They can speak for themselves.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito