"I think it went well. It was orderly," Police
Commissioner Ray Kelly said. "We facilitated
people's ability to make their opinions known."
CNN Special Report of Sunday, February 16,
2003 “Hundreds arrested in New York
protest.” Posted on the CNN Web Site
Worldwide public expression of dissent against U.S. plans to invade Iraq is so extensive even cable news networks often run something more than sound bites. This essay will explore the implications of the refusal by the Federal government to allow a march in New York City February 15th, and how the management of the rally by the Police Department of the City of New York, or NYPD, can be taken as a cautionary forewarning of the deterioration of the legal system, particularly regarding the First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments, including habeas corpus, that is such a frightening threat to our civil liberties, and by extension, the safety of the world.
“Are you here for the march?” The tentative voice came from behind me as I stood in the No. 7 train about to depart from the Port Authority Bus Terminal headed for Grand Central Station. “Yes, we are.” I was with my stepdaughter Sarah and my good friend Charlee, a sculptor who constructs fierce works of barbed wire and broken glass about the human condition at the beginning of the twenty first century. The voice was that of Francoise, a French citizen who had arrived from Boston that morning by bus with her friend Alain. Francoise, a slightly delicate but rather handsome woman, had lived in and around Boston for a dozen years or so. She and her companion had come to New York to “make their opinions known,” to use Commissioner Kelly’s phrase.
“Well, Grand Central is the second stop, and from there you can either walk to the rally or take the Lexington Avenue local.” I pointed out to her that this was a rally, not a march, and that we had been forbidden to march by the City of New York. As it happened, Francoise and Alain were to be our companions for the next hour or two, until we were eventually separated during this remarkable event. Before we parted, Francoise would confide to us her intention to return to France to live, given the atmosphere developing here.
Sarah, my wife Jan Carlsson-Bull, a Unitarian-Universalist minister at The Unitarian Church of All Souls at 80th.St. and Lexington Avenue in New York, and I had all been in Washington, DC October 26th for the first of the series of major rallies against the Bush War on Iraq. This March, some 150,000 strong, depending on whom you asked, was an almost entirely peaceful affair.
Jan and I stayed with a friend on E 92nd St. the night of October 25th. Around 5:30AM or so we set off south on Lexington Avenue, headed for the All Souls Church and a bus ride to Washington. Sarah was to travel to DC by train from Brattleboro, Vermont and meet us there. It was cold, windy, and rainy and the bus was late, but spirits were high amongst the little knot of marchers huddled in the portal of the church. More and more people arrived, and there was a general soggy mingling and mixing, and occasional grumbling about the bus, which finally pulled up a little after six. Everyone got on board, so to speak, and down the road we went.
Nearly all the passengers were associated in some way with All Souls church, but not all. For example, an assistant to Amy Goodman, of Pacifica Foundation’s “Democracy Now” was with us. A few miles down the road, I broke out some copies of a little placard downloaded from the International ANSWER Web site. It was prepared by The Partnership for Civil Justice Legal Defense and Education Fund. This little gem covered “Your Right to Protest in Washington, D.C.,” “What To Do If The Police Come to Your Home,” “What to Do If You Are Arrested,” and “What to Do If You’re Stopped by the Police.” As it happened, this card would have been far more valuable in New York February 15th than in DC October 26th. The ride was completely uneventful, yet festive. No one seemed to be apprehensive. All had their own objective, but camaraderie was the order of the day. Along the way, we gradually girded our bodies with the bucklers of protest, cotton and cardboard, T-shirt and placard; “No Blood for Oil.”
Disgorged from the bus at Constitution and 21st, we were met by International ANSWER canvassers with petitions, the air was filled with chants and slogans, and I felt at home. Kids with spiked fuchsia-colored hair walked alongside parents with babies in strollers. Seniors were abundant. It was just plain folks. We made our way across Constitution Ave. to the rally site, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
How well I remember my first visit to the Memorial. Like so many others, I was moved by the simple elegance of this Memorial - unfortunately a memorial to human folly. On that visit, I sought out the name of Jan’s first husband, a divinity student who could so easily have avoided service, and volunteered because he just felt it was the right thing to do. It was early on a summer evening, and gentle shadows fell around the stark black Wall. When I found Russ’s name chiseled in the marble, I slowly approached it and held out my hand. When flesh touched cold stone, I burst into tears. Russ was a second lieutenant, killed by gunshot after three months “in country.” Quang Tri. Tet. February 2nd, 1968. Jan sent the medals, including a Bronze Star, back to the Army with an indignant letter. The Army simply sent them a second time, no note, no explanation, no sympathy, no nothing.
Now here we were, gathered on the green lawn of Constitution Gardens, a vast array of those who hope there can be a world with no more Russ Fleshers. Many speeches, some passionate, some reasoned, a few that were both. On the ground, as it were, a panoply comprising all the rising tide of fear and hope. A panoply both literal and metaphorical, for the ground was armored with bodies of fervent hope, of resolution that we could stop the unstoppable. As the speeches harangued and cajoled, street theater distracted. “Raging Grannies” vied with Anarchists, Socialists, democrats of every description; “Conservatives for Peace,” were visible proof that those who are against policy are not automatically with the “enemy.”
Jan is busy seeking out Unitarian-Universalists who, if we are to take her word, comprise most of liberal humanity. We do in fact find a contingent from our hometown in New Jersey, and hugs and handshakes abound. Me, I’m looking for Mennonites, one of the three traditional Protestant Peace Churches, the others being The Church of the Brethren and the Society of Friends or Quakers, as they are better known. On the Internet, I carry out a running dialog with these remarkable souls, from whom I have learned so much about character and conviction, mercy and compassion, agape and altruism. Finally I find three young Mennonites from Ohio, and thank them for being them. “Sarah, Sarah, there’s Sarah.” General joy at finding her in this throng. General disappointment at her parting to stay with friends.
The last thing we are thinking about is the police. DC police presence is everywhere, but nowhere even slightly threatening. Mounted police were nearby, and many took their children for a closer look at the horses. The police weren’t looking for trouble, and neither were the marchers. Poor preparation indeed for the confrontational authoritarian power we would encounter on the streets of New York in a couple of short months.
Just before starting to march, an activity that apparently does not worry the police in the midst of the nation’s Capital, but sends chills of fear down the spines of New York’s finest, I spy a tiny gray-bearded man in a War Resisters League T-shirt. I approach him, and to my absolute delight, am face-to-face with Ralph DiGia, one of the Union Seminary 8. These were students from Union Theological Seminary sent to Danbury Federal Penitentiary as conscientious objectors soon after the draft law passed in August 1940. DiGia is still in the struggle against violence and war sixty years later.
Among the Union 8 was Dave Dellinger, who would many years later stand trial as one of the Chicago 8. This infamous trial was to go down in history as perhaps the most farcical yet vindictive proceedings in United States legal history. In this instance, the Chicago police had staged a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, arriving by the busload to march in formation in front of the Chicago Hilton Hotel, beating unarmed demonstrators, and dragging their bloodied bodies to jail. As the police shouted “kill, kill, kill” the demonstrators chanted arguably the most famous phrase in protest history: “The whole world is watching.” Being part of the whole world, watch I did, with revulsion and horror, on my television in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Chicago 8 were not indicted by a federal grand jury until March 20, 1969, some seven months after the event. Ironically, this was because then Attorney General Ramsey Clark refused to convene a grand jury for the purpose, knowing the whole litany of charges to be a fabrication. Clark is prominent today in his advocacy for peace, and his role with International ANSWER in the fight to stop war with Iraq. There are yet more ironic legal parallels between Chicago in 1968-69 and the anti-war movement of today. In March of 1969, the Nixon administration took office and the indictments followed immediately. The new Attorney General was John Mitchell, who would later serve time for perjury committed during the Watergate Trial. All lovers of freedom and the Constitutional rule of law reviled Mitchell. He proposed detention of those who might, in Mitchell’s omniscience, commit criminal acts sometime in the future. This is alarmingly similar to the present-day practices of the current Attorney General John Ashcroft. The Judge at the ensuing trial was one Julius Hoffman, a now infamous person, an emblem, a veritable incarnation of injustice and judicial partiality. We shall revisit him later when considering Judge Barbara Jones, who upheld the denial of a permit to march in New York City February 15th.
After the three hour rally at Constitution Gardens the March began at Constitution Avenue NW and 21st St. NW, almost exactly where the bus load of All Souls souls had arrived for the day. The marchers walked along Constitution and turned onto 17th St. The throngs of enthusiastic marchers could move only very deliberately at first, so many engaged in casual conversation along the way. Drums, hypnotic drums, the mantra of universal connection for so much youth today, were insistent and inexorable. Many danced in the streets for the sheer joy of it all.
In New York, most sophisticated of all cities, by it’s own description, stepping into most streets other than First Avenue was to be an act forbidden by the state apparatus on February 15th, 2003. Here in Washington, even in the shadow of the White House, they get it. To forbid a march is to provoke disruption and discord. Perhaps the New York police get it, too. Broad banners announcing myriad political, religious, and social organizations were spread across the avenue, held by marchers of every description. Since movement was so slow, many lounged along the sides of the street, some shouting political slogans. Vietnam vets were there, determined to prevent, if they could, another government adventure of the American imperium.
At the same time, a great number were first-time demonstrators, folks who would never think of performing acts of civil disobedience, for example. Just lots and lots of people, richly diverse, who don’t want America to go to war. Counter-demonstrators were characteristic of Vietnam War protests, and sometimes the resulting tension led to violence. There was indeed a small group gathered against the marchers, and there was one small disturbance. Two of the day’s three arrests took place in this context. But the whole event was overwhelmingly peaceful.
Along 17th St., a natural stopping place for numerous marchers was the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Here and at many other stops along the way, doors were thrown open for tired, bladder-bedeviled folks. I had been walking with several Unitarian women, and we had become separated from the balance of our bus group. We spoke amiably of what we were trying to accomplish, and the probability of success. It all became like a giant picnic, and it might as well have been Easter Parade strollers as anti-war protestors. One bicyclist riding against the current of the marchers, called out as he passed “Your efforts are misdirected.” Hardly an expression of vigorous opposition. One more incident involved a middle-aged marcher who engaged in an altercation with a bystander who was taunting him. He threatened his reproachful challenger, and others came to prevent him from resorting to force.
The March turned onto H Street. We waved at sympathizers along the route, and moved peacefully and in orderly fashion to 15th St. and back onto Constitution Avenue. There was another short rally at the end of the March, but this was a rather half-hearted affair. Kids were tired, old folks were tired, everyone was tired. Buses began to arrive, gathering up their weary cargos. Others headed for the Metro, or for cars, and headed home.
Protests against the Vietnam War became increasingly efforts to paralyze, obstruct, or damage the government. This has been true more recently during anti-globalization events, as well. Actions against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been expressly disruptive. Not so the October 26th Rally and March. This was just ordinary people, who wanted to let the citizenry, the government, and the world know that they believe there is an alternative to war. Much rhetoric was specifically against Bush and various Cabinet members, but no one urged direct violent action. All in all, not bad on the first anniversary of the signing by President Bush of the Patriot Act.
On the Grand Central shuttle subway back in Manhattan, after getting off the bus from DC, a young man who resented the ANSWER button I was wearing accosted me. He was agitated, as though drugged, and Jan was frightened, or at least wary, of this loose cannon. “’No War on Iraq’ eh? Why not?” My response was simply "We don't like to kill people." He was quiet after that.
Soon after, in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, another young man spoke to Jan of his regret that he had not been in DC. He said he was there in spirit, and thanked us for going for him.
Later, waiting for a bus to New Jersey in the Port Authority terminal, several persons in line with us expressed appreciation for what we had done, but also cynicism about the chances of prevailing against the Bush war machine. On the bus a few minutes later I was once more accosted by a gentleman who, when I tried to explain what we had been doing, launched into a diatribe against all Arabs as merciless monsters, and talked at length about the virtues of Israel. I pointed out that I had not said a word about Israel or the Palestinians, and that he was not responding to my objections concerning war in Iraq. He insisted on keeping to his agenda, recounting tales of torture in Egyptian prisons, the unspeakable inhumanity of Palestinians, and so I broke off the interaction, suggesting that this was not dialog, but polemic.
Arriving home in New Jersey, I was dismayed to turn on the TV, and find CSPAN covering the counterdemonstration, an infinitesimally minor part of the entire proceeding.
Having experienced these extremes of reaction in the aftermath of the demonstration, I hoped at least to read a report in the next morning's New York Times that would be at worst, neutral. Well, the Times covered the march on page A8, with no indication on the front page of the story on the inside, choosing instead to promote a Special Section on fashion!
The story itself comprised a fairly large picture (I was in it, just behind the Oberlin banner, but my image is too small to recognize) and a very short article, the main point of which seemed to be that the turnout was low because of the sniper who had been shooting people in the Washington suburbs that week. Personally, I never heard a single person mention the sniper(s) one way or the other during the entire event. I quote from the Times article of October 27th, "Fewer people turned out than organizers had hoped for ... ." This was of course news to me. I had thought perhaps 25,000 would come, and was deliriously happy at the sight of more than 100,000. The basic tone of the article felt patronizing at best, with a few bones thrown in the direction of objectivity.
Just next to the article about the march was an article twice as large entitled "12 Americans Stage Protest Hussein Is Happy to Allow." In this article, there was so much overt editorializing that it truly sickened me to read such drivel in the pages of the once august Times. Below the march coverage was yet another article about three times as large about how hard the Yemen is fighting against "Qaeda."
Public reaction against this willfully negative coverage was so extreme the Times felt it prudent to print an additional, more comprehensive, and more honest article a day or two later.
So I guess the Times has become an apologist for Bush. By this point I was becoming truly discouraged, wondering what was the point of trying. This was not where I wanted to go. I had thought that the Washington Post had turned rather hard right after the death of Katherine Graham, so I was thrilled, upon visiting the Post Web site the next morning to find a comprehensive, sympathetic article on Page A1 by Staff Writers Monte Reel and Manny Fernandez.
The press coverage over the next few days was positive enough to make me hopeful about the next major public display of protest, scheduled for January 18th of 2003. I describe that day as well, since a comparison of October 26th and January 18th with the debacle in New York February 15th should be morally and practically instructive by contrast.
January 18th was bitterly cold in Washington, but the hearts of the many thousands gathering there were warm with the sense that perhaps we could have an effect, after all. I drove down to DC from New Jersey early on the morning of the 18th to do my part. Normally I would take a bus with some church group, but instead this time I took my car. My friend Charlee Swanson (charleeswanson.com), the sculptor who produces many angry yet wonderful works against violence, many made from broken glass and barbed wire, was with me, as he would be again February 15th.
We parked the car at the Greenbelt Metro station and took the Green Line train into central DC. The first thing that struck me before even boarding the train was the great throng of people of like mind who had also driven to the March. As I normally would take a bus, this was a new experience of solidarity for me.
When we got off the train at the National Archives/Navy Memorial station, we were greeted by the sight of four or five homeless men sleeping on the sidewalk in the fifteen degree or so weather, with the Capitol building in plain sight. The Bush administration, with the full collusion of the Congress, is about to spend tens of billions of dollars to kill Iraqis, but in the richest country in the world, there's no money for the simplest compassion.
Comparison with the Oct 26th March is in order. The general atmosphere in October was substantially more positive, in my opinion. There was an air of hopefulness, that perhaps something could be done. This time, things felt more angry, more frustrated, there was more of a sense of futility. Mind you this sense regards the impending war. On another level, there was an aura of community, and a quite palpable attitude that a movement was being built.
The bitter cold (for DC) was a factor, I'm sure. Yet one young man stood naked but for his skivvies, and offered his body for all to paint peace signs on. If he didn't die of hypothermia, then miracles do indeed still occur. Despite this young man's evident insanity, there was a real threat of hypothermia for the many older people and very young children who were standing there in noisy witness. The organizers were cognizant of this, and spoke words of warning and advice from the podium.
I wore my old button, kept in a box lo these many years, from the first SDS March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam, which took place April 17, 1965. That March, although it had support from a small group of religious figures, was essentially political - it was the first real show of strength of the New Left. There were only about 20,000 or so, mostly young, demonstrators. I am still proud that I was there, but I see, looking down the halls of time, that it was very, very different from what happened January 18th.
Years of military operations had been ongoing in Vietnam before any resistance of any consequence occurred. In 1961 50,000 or so women demonstrated around the country against resumption of nuclear testing, the germ of Women Strike for Peace. In February of 1962, The Student Peace Union, an offshoot of the American Friends Service Committee, organized a two day picketing action at the White House, also essentially against nuclear testing, at which some two or three thousand took part. But nothing substantial against American military action in Vietnam. All through that horrendous war, or at least until nearly the end, religious leaders had been relatively reticent in voicing dissent. True, by October of 1967 the Berrigan brothers, the Baltimore Four, were pouring blood on draft files, but the US had been involved in Vietnam for ten years by that time. The main controversy, in that far off long ago day, was how to keep the New York Post from branding the March a communist plot.
Well, today, Marxism is in relative eclipse, despite the presence of numerous socialist groups at the party, and ANSWER itself, a creation of the Workers World Party. The Workers World Party has been branded a neo-Stalinist group, and has been blamed for seemingly all the ills of the world. Yet it is the WWP under the aegis of International ANSWER that has done all the work to get these marches going. The WWP has even been accused of supporting the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviets, some five years before the WWP was founded. Ramsey Clark has been vilified in the pages of The Nation, simply by association with International ANSWER. Guilt by association is an age-old tactic. Although International ANSWER was one part of a large coalition of peace and anti-war groups, it is still effective to hammer at a perceived weak link in any chain. I am always amazed to find that some, including some who are leaders, are unhappy that the motives of all the marchers are not pure, that somehow it was not right to participate in such a march, because there were some there who said or did things that were disagreeable. Such divisive insistence on purity of motives is a prescription for failure.
At the January event, banners of political groups were nearly eclipsed by banners of religious groups of every persuasion, and of every description. Episcopalians side by side with Palestinian Muslims. All sorts of religious beliefs, from the traditional peace churches, the Mennonites, the Brethren, and the Friends, to mainstream Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews, united in their conviction that this war is just plain wrong. The personal reasons for this view varied, surely, from group to group, and from individual to individual for that matter. Even more encouraging, the Washington demonstration was only one of many around the country that day. And millions all around the world would march the weekend of February 15th. How heartening that this sort of solidarity is occurring before the war, or at least the overt hostilities, has begun. True, the amphetamine-drugged aerial warriors have been killing anonymously from the heavens all along, but the invasion has not yet begun.
Much activity was more or less spontaneous. I encountered a small group from Detroit, the town I grew up in, and struck up a conversation. Turns out they were UAW stalwarts, and before I knew it, we were all singing a rousing rendition of "Solidarity Forever." One gentleman was in fact a Wobbly, and had been involved in organizing small auto plants to which Ford, GM, et al outsource to avoid unions and reduce costs. We talked about Joe Hill, and what people have done through the years to display the courage of their convictions. Blue-collar antiwar folks, these cannot be dismissed as "immature campus radicals.”
Labor knows how corporations are amoral at best. In the 1930’s, when unions were desperately trying to organize to overcome the ravages of the Depression, and were rewarded with clubbing and shootings by both government agents and corporate private armies, some of the largest U.S. corporations, led by the anti-Semite Henry Ford, were attracted to the fierce anti-labor policies of Nazi Germany. The government of the Bank of England came to the United States to obtain armaments credits. Ford, GM, ITT and other US corporations used these credits to build armaments factories in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. After the U.S. entered World War II, it guaranteed “cost plus” contracts for these same corporations for providing American armaments to destroy these very same German factories. The U.S. government later paid these corporations hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate them for loss of these American built Nazi factories. Even then, it seems, corporate profits took precedence over human lives, and it’s happening again.
Jesus, or his spirit, was very much there, in the signs, in the chants, in the hearts of so many. Abraham and Mohammed were there as well. The current anti-war movement is so different from what I was involved with in the sixties. Now it is a true coalition across the entire spectrum of political, religious, and social beliefs. I saw self-described conservatives, outraged at what our government is doing in our name. But "Not in Our Name" we chant. All kinds of people were there, from fuchsia and chartreuse-haired elaborately body-pierced teens, to one of my all-time favorites, the "Raging Grannies" from Rochester NY, twenty or so distinctly senior ladies, who sang songs of their own composition. In the sixties, people of color were relatively scarce, with their energies focused more on the civil rights struggle. On this Martin Luther King Holiday, there were three speakers from Congress, and all were African-American. Not a single white congressman, to the best of my knowledge, had the courage to stand up to this juggernaut. But Cynthia McKinney, voted out of her Georgia seat in the primary by party-line crossing Republicans, was on the stage, as was John Conyers of Michigan, and Charles Rangel of New York sent a message that was read by an organizer.
Passing along the route, lined with scores, probably hundreds, of Capital Police, I was struck by the idea of how we all have choices in every aspect of our lives. Some of these officers were friendly, some less so, but nearly all seemed courteous. Probably most would rather have been home with their families, or watching a basketball game on the great brain robbery called television. Some of the choices made by them were: Stand defiantly with your hand on your pistol or your nightstick (similar to the Tonfa or Tuifa used by Okinawan martial artists, and a weapon of formidable effectiveness in trained hands, but actually derived from a rice flail) drawn; stand in a rigid posture of stoicism; or smile and try to interact with the marchers. One marcher was trying to convince a policeman to give the peace sign, and the officer laughed, saying "I know what you're trying to get me to do, but I can't do that on duty." Maybe even some of the police were sympathizers? One thing I do know. The Capital police had no hidden agenda. I know no such thing regarding behavior of the NYPD on February 15th.
Continuing along the way, I suddenly hear my name being called, and I turn to find my beloved friend Nancy Shakir, for twenty years or more a Black Muslim, and now a devout Unitarian, a teacher and a poet, with two beautiful African woman friends. Nancy wore a large button demanding reparations to African-Americans. Hugs and kisses all around. What joy.
The government had denied the use of sound equipment at the Naval Yard, the end point of the March itself, so as folks reached the Yard, they just generally dispersed in a vaguely dispirited way, finding their respective ways to their buses or cars, or to the Metro stations, and it was over.
It is impossible to know how meaningful this sort of activity will turn out to be. Driving home, I got a parking ticket, at an Applebee's parking lot with meters, believe it or not, in College Park MD at 6:30 on Saturday night. Just another one of the innumerable ways the modern state extracts obedience and fealty from its citizens. It was a downer. I am told that depression, or something like it, is a very common reaction after participating in one of these protests. Well, I don't know how common it may be, but it certainly happened to me. What can we do, ultimately, against this relentless seemingly inexorable malevolence? Someone recently sent me an email with a detailed message to the effect that we (that is, Americans) have been at war with Islam for twenty-five years, and that Bush had promised to "wipe out evil." I wrote back:
”I utterly disagree with this entirely false and malicious analysis. This is self-serving propaganda, the kind that leads to mega-deaths. For just one example of an alternative view, take a look at
My fervent belief is that we should all work for peace, and pray for success. War is not the answer. Bush thinks he can 'wipe out evil.' This is sinful sacrilege. Even Christ did not go so far.
”Despite your implication ... , there is no sensible rationale for the current Mid-East situation as formulated by the destructive men and women in the White House. Our way of life is being destroyed, but by our own government, not by terrorists.”
The experience of the two marches in Washington DC was positive. Capital authorities were relatively cooperative, the police were benign, and several hundred thousand Americans had a chance to express their views. The First Amendment was honored, for the most part. Dissent was free and open around the country. Will that change? Was what happened in New York February 15th a prolegomena to serious suppression of domestic dissent? It is abundantly clear that both the President and the Attorney General would prefer to have no domestic dissent. Let’s examine recent developments. Let’s look at just a few of the more egregious examples of how the government has been behaving.
For forty years or more, Americans were told that the Soviet Union was oppressive, not just to its own people, but to its “satellite” nations as well. We were told that these nations, the “captive nations,” were forced to hold to the Soviet political line, and to always agree with the position of their benevolent protector, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This was perhaps so. But what about today? If France and Germany do not toe the American line, they are ungrateful, weak, anti-American, cowardly, and worse. No American tanks threaten France or Germany, but there is serious talk of economic and political sanctions emanating both from talk show self-proclaimed “experts,” like so many political shills, to the governments own so-called “experts,” whose only expertise is their power.
The illogic of the President’s infamous “If you aren’t with us, you’re with the terrorists” has been described ad nauseam in the press, yet it still works. So it now happens that any country or any person that disagrees with the President’s policy of war is ipso facto a terrorist sympathizer. Yet another propaganda ploy was to point out that the Soviets were prone to “disappearing” people into the gulags. Again, evidence abounds that this was true. But now it is our government’s unstated policy as well. It’s probably pointless to write once again about the large numbers of Afghans, Saudis, and others held at Guantanamo in Cuba, at a base that is itself held by force through a non-negotiable treaty. None of these prisoners has any right of habeas corpus. They are political prisoners, held for indefinite periods without trial, or even meaningful judicial procedures. Sadly, U.S. citizens have also been held incommunicado.
But things are perhaps much worse. In a stunning outburst, in the 2003 State of the Union message, the President said, “More than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way - they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.” In other words, extra-judicial executions. Were we not told for decades that this is a tactic of the evil communists, and that the pure and god-fearing West, especially the United States, would not stoop to such tactics? Worst of all, does the Bush government carry out deliberate murder in our names? That the words were spoken cannot be denied. They are reproduced on the White House Web site. The Internet reaches around the world. Thousands of sites reproduced the words, some with consternation, and some with admiration. I heard it on CNN. All the news services have this statement on tape. This is illegal under international law, but the Bush government does not respect international law or international opinion. But it is also a complete abrogation of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments if practiced on American citizens or anyone on American soil when terminated “with extreme prejudice” as the saying goes.
Well, so what? It’s naïve to think this is a big deal, isn’t it? The CIA has been assassinating for years and years. It took a Congressional action spearheaded by Senator Frank Church to bring this even moderately under control. The Bush government now wants to repeal this law, presumably so assassination can be done with a clear conscience. We’ve been bombing Iraq for years with complete impunity. What possible legal justification can be given for this? Governments around the world acquiesce, probably out of fear. And who wouldn’t fear such a power. Pax Americana and don’t you forget it. George Bush showed us many times over he prefers termination to mercy, execution to compassion. In all his years as Governor of Texas, he never once showed mercy to any prisoner on Death Row. Now we know how often such executions are racially biased, perhaps racially motivated, but no matter. We also know how often these are executions of innocent men or women. But no matter.
But wait, there’s more. In the February 6, 2003 New York Times it was reported that Atty. Gen. Ashcroft has ordered that capital punishment be applied to 12 defendants who were not to be subject to capital punishment, as part of "an aggressive effort to assure nationwide consistency in decisions to seek the death penalty." In other words, kill them all. This hearkens back to the massacre of Albigensians in 1209. When asked if any should be spared if they could be shown to be true Christians, Arnauld, the Pope's legate, replied "Kill all, the Lord will know his own." Is this the kind of society we want? Once martial law is declared then there may be no recourse against whatever these people choose to do, and we know they will choose death.
There are people who take great pleasure from killing, and furthermore, think they are doing God's work thereby. In Manichaen terms, in the struggle between Eros and Thanatos, death nearly always prevails, not the least because so many confuse the two. Our President, for example, seems to take pleasure in killing, although I do not want to believe that. As Governor of Texas, he presided over numerous executions, and to my knowledge, never showed mercy. Yet he considers himself a born-again Christian. How can people who love Jesus deal with that? And we all know the next step in his death-worshipping journey. He is willing to level Iraq just to get at one man. Simple common sense tells us that if Saddam Hussein were to kill another ten thousand before he dies, and if the U.S. armed forces are to kill 100,000 or more, on top of the 500,000 already killed by the sanctions, then where is the true evil?
My point here is not to trash the President, although that is tempting enough. He undoubtedly believes in his heart he is working to bring about peace. So, what is his definition of peace? I know, I know, he is also interested in oil, power, etc, etc. But he also believes he is working for peace, in his own mind's perversion of that word. If Christ did bring us a Gospel of Love, then Christians in this world are few, indeed.
When Soviet style communism fell, there was hope around the world that maybe now, maybe after all, there could be peace, and the lion would lie down with the lamb. But the lion is always hungry. There is always a new oppressor arising from the ashes of the last. The fall of fascism did not bring peace. The fall of communism did not bring peace. I believe it was Walter Wink, in "Engaging the Powers" who pointed out the oft-repeated lament that when one group manages to displace another it believes to be evil, a central problem is how to avoid simply becoming the next oppressor.
Violence, love of violence, is an addiction. So also is sin, however one may define this loaded term, in general. Sri Ramakrishna, the great nineteenth century Indian mystic, wrote in his "Gospel," "A bath in the Ganges undoubtedly absolves one of all sins; but what does that avail? They say that the sins perch on the trees along the banks of the Ganges. No sooner does the man come back from the holy waters than the old sins jump on his shoulders from the trees. The same old sins take possession of him again. He is hardly out of the water before they fall upon him."
Just so for mankind. We fall into sin, and willingly. We become what we profess to revile. And we kill. We are killing now. And it is done in the name of mercy, in the name of righteousness, in the name of peace.
The intent of the Bush Administration is clear. The 2002 National Security Strategy declares “[a] single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.” In this years’ State of the Union, the President said, “The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America also determine our conduct abroad. The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests. Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person, and the possibilities of every life. This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men.” And also: “[Americans] exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers. Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity. “
Huh? The American system is God’s gift to humanity? George Bush wants to impose the American political and economic system on the rest of the world because God told him to? This sounds like imperialism to me. We cannot and should not impose our way of life on others against their will. And we cannot make them want our way of life just by willing it so. But how to argue with a true believer?
But what, indeed, is to be done? In the coming months, countless innocent people will die, or worse, be maimed and live a life of suffering. As a result of the actions of our government, terrorist actions will be unleashed upon us as well. And all because of the death-loving leader who claims to be a true and righteous Christian. This unholy slaughter in Iraq will result in more terrorism, not less. What is to be done if civil war results? What is to be done if martial law results? What is to be done if what is left of the Constitution is suspended, considered by some a legal action under martial law? Well, we can dissent. We can resist.
“The World Says No to War.”
The March of February 15th was to be part of a coordinated day of protest worldwide. The actual span would turn out to be more like three days, with the spirit of resistance crossing and re-crossing the International Date Line. Around the planet, citizens of the world marched to show their opposition to the state’s orgy of death. Over 600 cities and towns would take part. London, home of that Labor Party transmuted by Tony Blair and others into a clone of the American Democratic Leadership Council, would see a peaceful march of over one million resolutely voicing their dismay at the war plans of the Americans, with the poodle dog assistance of the Blair government. (Tony Blair, the best Tory PM Britain has ever had, shown the way by Bill Clinton, the best Republican President we have ever had.) In Rome, estimates were as high as two million, and in Madrid, a putative ally of the Bush Administration, nearly a million turned out according to some observers. Even Turkey allowed its citizens to march.
Even in Corpus Christi, (literally “Body of Christ”) Texas, there was an anti-war march on the 15th. It didn't make CNN, but it happened. A local television newsman claimed that this was the first such march in Corpus Christi history. There are two Naval Air Stations, the Corpus Christi Army Depot, the Ingleside Anti-mine Squadron, and more. According to one report, at least fifteen large Army transport ships have shipped out from Corpus Christi in the last two weeks, carrying tanks, cannon, and other machines of war. Lines of equipment waiting to board the ships stretched for miles. It is said that one ship departed as the marchers passed by, ignoring pleading cries of “Come back, come back.”
All in all, more than 600 cities and towns around the world held marches. More than eleven million citizens of the world stood up to be counted. To the best of my knowledge, none was denied permission to march. Except in New York. All across the USA just plain folks, unhappy with the relentless drive to death, and nervous and unsure that war is really necessary, peacefully marched “to make their opinions known.”
On February 14th, St.Valentine’s Day, the international day of love, the national security level was increased to Code Orange. It was all part of “Homeland Security.” The term itself is redolent of das Dritte Reich. This bit of apparent silliness was to have blowback straight to Gracie Mansion and beyond. Whether that blowback was intentional is problematical (more on this topic later.) The city of New York, site of the infamous assault on the World Trade Center, had been on Code Orange from the day the inane system had been established.
But no matter. February 4, the Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg had denied United for Peace and Justice, the organizers of the demonstration “The World Says No to War,” a permit to stage a march past the United Nations to Central Park where a rally was to occur. “Heightened security concerns” was the excuse. The New York Civil Liberties Union immediately filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the city. On the morning of February 10, Federal Judge Barbara Jones denied United for Peace and Justice a permit to march in New York February 15th. It seems marches are OK in DC but too dangerous in NYC.
President Bill Clinton had appointed Judge Jones to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, in 1995. Prior to that appointment, Judge Jones had no bench experience whatsoever. After receiving a J.D. from Temple University Law School in 1973, she was Special Attorney for the Manhattan Strike Force Against Organized Crime and Racketeering for the U.S. Department of Justice. This appointment lasted from 1973 to 1977, when she became Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York, still working against organized crime. In 1987, she was named First Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, a post she held until her nomination by President Clinton in 1995. In the latter capacity, she would have been expected to develop a close relationship with the NYPD, the closeness of which is revealed explicitly in her Opinion 03 Civ. 810 (BSJ) United for Peace and Justice v. City of New York et al. issued February 10, 2003 (Opinion.)
When Judge Julius Hoffman presided over the “trial” of the Chicago 8, later the Chicago 7 due to the exclusion of Bobby Seale, justice and fair procedure were not present, even in spirit. David Dellinger described the proceedings brilliantly in his autobiography “From Yale to Jail.” Judge Hoffman issued hundreds of contempt citations. The defense maintained, with accuracy as it turned out, that this was because the judge knew that no conviction obtained under the proffered charges would be sustainable. The government even conspired to have a jurywoman dismissed on trumped up circumstances so that a government-sponsored witness, alternate juror Kay Richards, could be seated. Richards, engaged to one of Mayor Daley’s patronage appointees, concealed information during her pretrial interrogation, and went to elaborate lengths to convince the defendants that she was on their side, going so far as blowing surreptitious kisses at the defendants. Various government agencies, from the local to the national, had used agents provocateurs in the demonstrations during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Later an independent civil panel concluded that there had in fact been a police riot.
Several of the Chicago 7 defendants were convicted on February 18th, 1970. Ten days later denial of bail was overturned by a federal appeals court. The convictions of inciting to riot were overturned almost three years later, on the grounds that a fair trial had been denied the defendants. Earlier that same year, 1972, a federal appeals court also overturned all contempt convictions.
The original charges were never brought again, but the contempt charges were brought to trial in November of 1973. Although Judge Edward T. Gignoux convicted Dave Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and lawyer William Kunstler of a few of the contempt charges, he ruled that all except Kunstler could be released with time already served.
Judge Hoffman ruled over a travesty of justice, one of the more serious in American legal history. But the defendants had legal recourse after the fact. Although not a lawyer, it seems to me that the opinion of Judge Jones was also seriously flawed. The difference is crucial. No meaningful appeal could be made before the contemplated event took place. Thus there was no recourse. Serious denial of the fundamental First Amendment right of U.S. citizens to peacefully assemble resulted from arguments that seem to this layman to be prima facie flawed, and seemingly willful.
Judge Jones admitted in her opinion that marching in a public street is behavior protected by the First Amendment (p.7 of Opinion.) On p.6 of the Opinion she acknowledges that loss of First Amendment freedoms causes irreparable harm, no matter how short the time of loss. She then says that restrictions are allowed if “ample alternative channels” are left open (p.8 of Opinion.) Nevertheless, she denies the injunction basically on the say-so of Assistant Chief Michael Esposito, Commanding Officer of the Patrol Borough Manhattan South, which latter covers all of Manhattan south of 59th Street. Esposito asserts that he cannot protect the United Nations from the proposed marchers. No sensible reason why this should be so is offered, and none is demanded. The principle of First Amendment freedom would seem to be that in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, maximum freedom should be warranted.
Even so, United for Peace and Justice had offered to consider altering the route of the march, but Judge Jones would not even consider this. She writes that “new restrictions cannot be permitted on mere speculation about danger” and then proceeds to do precisely that. No credible evidence is given that the UN cannot be protected except Esposito’s claim: “That’s just an awful lot – amount of people.” Then we find in the Opinion that Esposito has banned all marches anywhere in Manhattan. What he really means is all political marches.
Comparison is made with the St. Patrick’s Day parade, a march involving far more people than the anticipated 100,000 for the February 15th event. NYPD claims this is different because they are experienced with this particular march, and they can plan ahead. This is absurd. Is NYPD claiming no marches can be allowed in New York because they have no experience? Are they admitting incompetence? No, they are admitting they have a political agenda.
The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade involves several hundred thousand participants, including the covert and overt presence of a known terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army. Furthermore, in every St. Patrick’s Day parade there is extensive public drunkenness, and violence is routine. To argue that a political demonstration by groups shown to be entirely peaceful in two recent marches in the nation’s Capital is a greater security risk is surely sophistry.
Another example of a supposedly manageable parade is the annual Puerto-Rican Day parade. This is similar to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in scope. An estimated three million people took part in the parade held on Sunday, June 11, 2000. This parade is even more politically potent than the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Many thousands of demonstrators chanted against further U.S. involvement in Vieques. Hundreds of thousands carried signs that read "Peace for Vieques" and "U.S. Navy out of Vieques", and chanted "Vieques Sí, Marina no!" and "Stop the Bombs Now!" There were even floats, with hundreds of Viequenses and thousands of marchers for peace in Vieques.
Tragically, there was the wilding in Central Park that same year. An alleged thirty-three young men attacked numerous young women for some four hours, in the middle of the afternoon. More than a thousand police officers were nearby, and refused to help. Women were sprayed with water, robbed, and raped, in full view of police. There is ample testimony that police deliberately ignored these execrable crimes. There is no need to go into further details about this incident. Suffice it to say, the New York Police Department seems to think this is tolerable, but expressions of dissent regarding our nation going to war is not. Apparently, so does Judge Jones.
Why is it that the City repeatedly allows marches it knows in advance will result in violence, issuing permits year after year, but will not allow political dissent through a peaceful march? Police had no indication whatsoever that there would be violence on the part of the protest marchers, but still arbitrarily disallowed any march anywhere.
It is self-evident that if terrorists were planning on attacking in this context, they would do so, whether the people were marching or stationary. It will become equally evident in the next few paragraphs that in fact, police actions were guaranteed to be provocative, and the police, not the demonstrators, perpetrated any violence on February 15th of this year at this demonstration.
Mayor Rudi Guiliani transformed New York into one of the safest large cities in the nation. But at a price, a price still to be determined. Absent any action to ameliorate the basic conditions leading to crime, safety in a city can only increase in direct proportion to police presence. Civic Order is always a tradeoff with Civil Rights. Let me make the standard disclaimer to the effect that there are many honest, well-meaning police officers in New York. Much sympathy for the police ensued after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Granted, not as much as for the firefighters, but sympathy nonetheless. But in far too many cases, the line between authority and criminal is slim, indeed. I well remember the biggest bully and petty criminal in my high school in the Detroit of the ‘50s became a sheriff in an upstate county. This is a guy who engaged in knife fights in the high school halls, who broke my friends nose one night, assaulting him through an open car window as my friend sat helplessly in the driver’s seat. I wouldn’t want to be stopped for a traffic violation in that county.
Now it is routine for police to appear in riot gear, looking like SWAT teams, to “keep order” at peaceful political demonstrations. This is intimidation of a high order. Such was the case on Saturday, February 15th, this and much more.
When our little band of French and American patriots emerged from Grand Central we set off uptown to the rally. Immediately, the police presence could be felt. Even at 42nd St. there were huge numbers of protestors moving north. But if you carried a placard on a wooden stick, the police simply destroyed it. I witnessed several instances of police dumping sticks, broken into small pieces, into trash receptacles. My God, are we asked to take seriously the idea that terrorists will attack a crowd of hundreds of thousands with dinky little wood sticks? This is not plausible, not even a little. No, it is intimidation. Only later would I learn how fully the forces of state authority were prepared to inflict punishment on the First Amendment, and on those wishing to express the rights heretofore granted by that Amendment to all citizens.
Moving on up Third Avenue, we came to 51st St., the street where the rally stage was set up. The permit allowed a rally on First Avenue stretching north from 49th Street. No dice. A very apologetic and clearly embarrassed policeman politely told us we must continue to 57th St. before we could move east to First Avenue. Steel and a few wood barriers had been set up seemingly everywhere. It was already clear that we were tightly under the control of the NYPD. We would soon learn how tight that control really was.
We were very early. It was not yet eleven. Francoise had broken out a tiny French flag, holding it above her head as she walked with us. I envied her. She, at least, could feel some pride in her government. Finally, at 56th St. we started across town. Second Avenue was lined with interlocking steel barriers as far as the eye could see. The street itself was empty, but pedestrians, nearly all protestors, could move along the sidewalk. Later in the day, this scene would become far more ominous.
When we reached First Avenue, the full import of police intent became clear. Demonstrators were to be severely restricted in movement, as the city had set up what amounted to incarceration pens up and down First Avenue. Steel barriers were set up on each block. The pens were in the middle of First Avenue, and spread about one-quarter of the way across the avenue. On either side of the pens a broad space had been set up in which only police were allowed. Another set of barriers was placed at either side of the avenue at the sidewalk. No one was allowed to walk on the sidewalk! Later in the day, probably of necessity due to the extreme size of the crowd, this rule would be honored in the breach.
No one was allowed to remain in the cross street where it crossed First Avenue. If you entered First Avenue, you were forced into one of the pens, or you had to turn around and immediately leave. Once in the pens, movement from pen to pen was strictly controlled. Our party was able to move slowly down First Avenue, finally making it to about 52nd Street. Movement from pen to pen was allowed only through openings about 18 to 24 inches wide. These openings were to be closed periodically so that no movement out of the pen was allowed at all. We were effectively imprisoned. No one could leave to try to get to the business establishments along the avenue, so no one could relieve him or her self. Remember, no Porta-Potties were allowed, as they were “security risks.”
In the spaces alongside the pens were literally thousands of police, some in regular uniform, but many in SWAT style outfits, with weapons strapped to their legs. Many dogs were in this space as well. Supposedly these dogs were bomb-sniffing animals, but I never observed a single incident of any dog sniffing for anything. But they were intimidating, which was evidently their real purpose. Snipers, euphemistically called sharpshooters, were on the nearby rooftops. Yeah, yeah, they were there to “take out” (i.e. kill) the bomb-throwing anarchists and terrorists who were surely all around me.
Despite the overt hostility of New York’s finest, most at the rally tried to make the best of a potentially bad situation. When the rally started, prayers were heard from representatives of the major religious faiths. People were generally respectful, and listened quietly. Then political speeches began, and for the most part, folks quietly listened. Our group had moved back north to about 56th St., as I recall, to be near one of the Jumbotron® screens and the loudspeakers placed here and there along First Avenue.
Suddenly, for no plausible reason, police arrived in force and told the people standing near the screens that they could no longer stay there, and had to move on. I guess they wanted us to march after all! Unfortunately, even for those willing to move, this proved difficult, as other police had closed the openings in the pens. Most just ignored the ridiculous demand of the police and stayed where they were.
Up to this point, most rally-goers on First Avenue seemed ready to respect the limitations of the permit, and were not in any way disruptive. Things were still friendly, even festive, and people were still hopeful that the day would be peaceful. For many, it was exactly that. In one piece of street theater, a group called The Beehive Design Collective had spread a large cloth mural on the ground in the middle of First Avenue. The mural depicted a history of colonialism in the Andean Region of South America. Many stopped to take a look. It was quite extraordinary. For the most part, the most extreme manifestation of political posturing I observed was the simple carrying of placards, signs, and banners with slogans against war on Iraq.
The police seemed to think it was civil disobedience not to move about in the sheep pens as they demanded, and they now started to move a few people forcefully. Needless to say, resentment started to grow as treatment by the police became rougher and rougher. By this time we had lost contact with Francoise and Alain, and Sarah, Charlee, and I started to move south again to get away from potential trouble with the police at 56th St.
The permit was granted for a rally to be held on Dag Hammarskjold Plaza at 47th St. and to extend north as far as necessary, estimated to reach to 75th St. if 100,000 persons participated. In fact, the crowd reached at least to 87th St., and accommodated only a fraction of those who wished to attend. The crowd overflowed onto Second, Third, and Lexington Avenues. Many thousands more were restrained by police west of Lexington, and never came near the rally proper. Ironically, if a march had been allowed, everyone could have peacefully passed along the parade route to Central Park, where the crowd of 500,000 or more could have been easily accommodated. But the police would have none of that. Their objective was not just to limit us to a rally, but to pen us in and restrict our movement so we could not meaningfully participate.
Trapped in a sheep pen on First Avenue, I pleaded with several policemen to let me out. Most ignored me. Several were overtly hostile. One told me to go back to 54th St. where I could escape. I was cold, hungry, and my bladder was needful. A number of young people had simply bolted over the fence when the opportunity arose. Astonishingly, when this happened, rows of police appeared as if by magic to prevent any further escape from imprisonment, proof, if any were needed, that the intent of the police was to harass, provoke, and contain forcibly. Although I could easily have jumped the fence, this route was now closed, so I tried to get out at 54th St. once more. This time, there was indeed a small opening in the pen, and out I went, only to be met by a police officer, I think he was a captain, telling me to go back! I said I had done nothing wrong, and the captain grabbed my arm, pointed to two other policemen, and said, “Take him.” I didn’t wait to find out what they had in mind. I broke his grip and moved back into the crowd.
It had been some time since anyone near me had even tried to listen to the speeches, which could no longer be heard in any event. Our little band of three decided to try once more to leave. This time we were successful, and we immediately moved west to Second Avenue.
Second Avenue was considerably more chaotic than First. Here, the Avenue itself was verboten, and we were only allowed on the sidewalks. All along Second Avenue for block after block police vans were parked, behind more of the same steel barriers used on First Avenue. Between the vans and the barriers was a long line of police, whose sole purpose seemed to be to keep the populace out of the otherwise empty street. I tell you, no sense can be made of what happened that day, except that one allows for ill will on the part of authority.
Second Avenue itself was rather like another prison, in that the sidewalk space was severely restricted. At cross streets, it became nearly impossible to move further, as the barriers were closed down to allow one or at most two at a time to move through. One poor gentleman, in a real panic, pushed strenuously from behind. “Get out of my goddam way. Let me out of here, I just want to go home.” He violently pushed and pushed. Finally, I spoke to him as gently as I could under the circumstances, telling him that we all wanted to get out, and that we simply could not physically give way. He looked me straight in the eye, and I thought he was going to weep. But he suddenly became calm, and moved along with the sluggish, somewhat disconsolate stream of constrained humanity. The situation was dangerous, as panic was a constant possibility. Repeated requests to open the passageways were deliberately ignored by the police.
Now came my first experience of the day with the horses. Beautiful animals they may be, but they are trained to do not very nice things. An array of mounted police was facing the sidewalk along one portion of Second Avenue. The horses would move forward toward the crowd, then back, never quite contacting any demonstrator. An officer on one of the horses was heard to say, “You wanted a demonstration, this is what you get.” It was abundantly clear that the police were preparing something, but what?
The three of us decided to move further west to get out of harm’s way. Arriving at Third Avenue around 51st St., we could see a large crowd at Third Ave. and 53rd Street. I was beginning to wonder just how far we would have to go to get away from the crowds. However, curiosity got the best of us, and we walked up Third Avenue, still threading our way through substantial crowds, to the scene of the drama about to unfold. Now the scene is really interesting. There is a throng of people in the middle of the intersection. A small group is standing on top of a newsstand. Pictures of this group have appeared in various newspapers and Web sites. This gathering is clearly illegal, as the permit allows a rally only on First Avenue. The rally crowd, however, is so huge that such gatherings are inevitable, indeed unavoidable. What is going to happen?
The group is very peaceful, although making their points with forceful voices. Many are listening to radio station WBAI, trying to gain some holistic perspective on the event. In fact, radios tuned to WBAI were common all over the area. WBAI covered the event from start to end to the best of their ability given their limited resources. All through the preceding few hours, many have been increasingly disturbed at the lack of cooperation from police. To the contrary, police are downright hostile, and trouble is certainly possible. I am standing in the center of Third Avenue, when a large contingent of police on foot moves up Third Avenue and into the intersection. No one resists, and the crowd parts immediately to allow the police to move in. Thus it would seem that the intersection has been cleared, and the incident should have been over. Instead, the police seem angered that no one resisted. So they start arresting the little group standing on the newsstand. This seems illogical and spiteful. The crowd starts to boo. The police only increase the level of violence employed while making arrests. I have moved over to the sidewalk at the southwest corner of the intersection, and my line of sight is not very good. But I can clearly hear the rising tide of anger in the crowd. It seems from my vantage point that the police have vanished, although I have no idea how this was accomplished. The crowd is unhappy, but still peaceful, if somewhat disturbed.
Suddenly, up Third Avenue come perhaps thirty or so mounted police. Now this is serious. Again, the now reconstituted crowd in the intersection parts with no resistance. Again, common sense would dictate that the incident is over. Alas, it was not to be. The horses are turned around, and face south, in a wedge-like formation. It seems they have deliberately closed ranks, almost as though inviting the crowd to gather together once more. What should have been a non-incident is turning very ugly. Suddenly, like so many latter-day Cossacks, the horses with their helmeted riders move aggressively into the crowd, scattering all in their path. Here are mounted police charging peacefully assembled demonstrators trying to exercise their constitutional rights to peaceful assembly. Some people are trampled. Their fate is still unknown to me. Others were in a panic. Charlee, Sarah, and I move as quickly as we can onto 53rd St. Although we were twenty yards or so from the line of horses, we are still pressed hard by those trying to get out of the way. I am afraid for Sarah’s safety, and move her well out of the way onto 53rd and up against a building.
More people are arrested, although I have not personally seen a single instance of physical resistance. Finally, after much provocation, the old chants from the sixties are heard again. “Fascist police,” and so on. The “two, four, six, eight, we don’t want your … “ chants. Call and response: “Whose, streets?” “Our streets.” In a single act of unfathomable stupidity, a whole group of peaceful citizens has been radicalized against state power. That the police were inviting hostile reaction seems indisputable. Did the authorities want this? Who knows?
On CNN that night, Chief Kelly was interviewed and justified his tactics by claiming the police were attacked. I can’t say with certainty that no police were attacked anywhere, but it didn’t happen at 53rd and Third. Over 320 persons were arrested according to the National Lawyer’s Guild. There were scenes shown on television of twenty or thirty police officers converging on one or perhaps two individuals, and beating them to the ground. To call this an attack on the police is sheer nonsense. Another video showed ranks of police lifting the steel barriers, and using them as battering rams against protestors.
I spoke later with several persons who had been further north during the rally, and claimed not to have witnessed anything like what I have related here. Perhaps this is so. Perhaps my experiences are virtually unique, but I doubt it. It is certain those on the rally sound stage were oblivious to any of this.
We must ask ourselves what the Mayor and the police hoped to accomplish that day. Cast aside the oft-repeated assertion that the only police force in the U.S. more brutal than NYPD is the Los Angeles Police. We cannot know whether the orange alert was coordinated or coincidental. New York City had been on orange alert since the color-coded system, the homeland security advisory system had been established in March of 2002. The first time an orange alert, a "high risk of terrorist attacks" status was proclaimed was in September of 2002, after six months of yellow, a "significant risk of terrorist attacks.” Most Americans now ignore the alert status, not knowing how to respond anyway. We can be reasonably confident, however, that, as Noam Chomsky said in January at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, “The most powerful state in the world has announced its intentions to rule the world by force.”
All across this country, marches were held protesting the imminent slaughter of Iraqis to spread the American hegemony. In her book “No Logo” Naomi Klein describes in great detail how the transnational corporate juggernaut, increasingly responsible to no government, is corrupting the world. The President of the United States has pledged the armed forces of the United States in that pursuit. But this cannot be done if the people prevent it. Jonathan Schell, in an article “The Will of the World” in The Nation for March 10, 2003, has written that, “On [February 15th, 2003], history may one day record, global democracy was born.” Well, I don’t know about that, but if dissent can be shown to be stoppable by repressive state action, as exemplified by a combination of judicial restraint on citizen action and police violence, as seen at the New York rally, then Schell is most definitely mistaken.
Alert levels are simply tools to intimidate the population. The hope is that making the people afraid will stifle dissent. If, as I have hypothesized, the expression of American military force around the world is merely a mechanism for the extension of transnational corporate power, then what happened in New York February 15th is a kind of test. Can the mega-state enforce its will arbitrarily? Mayor Bloomberg is a billionaire, and would feel right at home in Davos, Switzerland at the elite World Economic Forum. The economic model propagated by the WEF and its minions, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization is beginning to unravel. Around the globe serious dissent to globalization is growing. Ideologues in the Bush Administration are blindered, as it were, to the unintended consequences of transnational, indeed supranational, corporate policies.
Terrorism is a world crisis. And, as João Pedro Stedile, a World Social Forum organizer said in Porto Alegre, “When capitalism enters into crisis it always recurs to war.” War itself always begins with a lie. Always. Remember the Maine. Think of the Gulf of Tonkin “Incident.” Under the guise of controlling terrorism, the Bush government enforces its felt right to global hegemony, employing self-righteous slogans about protecting democracy and freedom to rationalize it.
The City of New York refused to grant United for Peace a permit for a march Feb 15th. If I had been arrested that day, I would not have been asked if I am a Christian or a Muslim, if I am a believer in the foundational tenets of Christianity, if I believe Mohammad was a "good" prophet, or if our fine democracy is better than an Islamic state. There is a group of Mennonites calling themselves Christian Peacemaker Teams. They are even now in most of the world’s true danger spots, where death can arrive at any second. Their motto is “Committed to reducing violence by getting in the way.” When incomparably brave CPT members stand in harm's way, I don't think they ask first if those being protected are pure in heart. Beatitude is in the heart of the individual. Terrible times may lie ahead. We must all work together, even with those who may not share our perfect wisdom. Jesus washed the feet of sinners. We must resist evil, not with more evil but with compassion and love. I am afraid that soon it will be all we have. We must make time. Make time to refuse and resist. Make time to witness for peace.
Maria Kornacki gave a gift to the world. She said it could be passed on to anyone:
DisarmedToday, I take stock of the lances I have hurled, the bullets and torpedoes in my own sad, secret arsenal. Oh, it happens. Even you may once have been perceived as enemy although it's possible I thought myself innocently justified. Yesterday, I cursed and wished a plague, daggers hidden behind my eyes while dignity and clever words pretended friendship, convincing you. And in the devious drama, passionately blind, I convinced myself, too. The question is how to keep breathing and breathing into a curve that is quiet where a wound can run clear, where struggles and bitter enmities transmute to dusk and dawn and everything between. My movements, when I breathe like this, open like winds, my mind spreads and divines that no one matters so much less than any other one and nothing matters that much more. It isn't easy, inertia abounds, but I am turning back my warships. Their massive bulk moves slowly. It's a job to turn around but, after all, one war-head when dismantled might unwittingly disarm another's battle front and on a breath another sterling fighter turns away, arms down. Maria Kornacki, 2003
God, if God exists, loves everyone. He loves George Bush, and he loves Saddam Hussein. And he loves every marcher, every march organizer, every counter-marcher, every soldier who will kill for "peace," every General who says Hussein must be "taken out," every newscaster who parrots the government line while claiming "objectivity."
But so what? Although God may love us all, we do not love each other. We must work with all who want peace and who oppose war. We cannot afford to be holier than thou. But what, indeed, is to be done? In the coming months, countless innocent people will die, or worse, be maimed and live a life of suffering, all to extend the power of global laissez-faire capitalism. As a result of the actions of our government, terrorist actions may be unleashed upon us as never before. And all because of the death-loving leader who claims to be a true and righteous Christian.
Even if we grant high motives to the President, the Law of Unintended Consequences will surely be revealed. This unholy slaughter in Iraq will result in more terrorism, not less. What is to be done if civil war results? What is to be done if martial law results? What is to be done if what is left of the Constitution is suspended, an action some consider legal under martial law?
Work for peace. Pray for success.
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