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Published: August 29th 2004
Yesterday was the big march. My friends headed off early to Washington Square, while I stayed behind at the apartment which was so graciously opened up to us on the Upper East Side. After several cups of coffee I finished my blog and headed downtown to the Fifteenth Street Friends Meeting. There I joined with Quakers from as far away as Minnesota Mexico in the centering silence of a Meeting for Worship before lining up in the courtyard and marching out into the streets under a banner proclaiming "Speak Truth to Power." All told, there were probably 150 Friends and attenders gathered together in a peaceful witness.
The march to Union Square was predictably slow, and as I walked with the front of our group, I shared in frustration of trying to keep more than a hundred people together while obeying traffic laws. It is simply not posssible to cross the street with so many people in the 20 or 30 seconds allowed by the illuminated by the walking white man before being stopped by the flashing red hand. The two halves of the group would be seperated by roaring traffic until the next "Walk" light.
And then there was the challenge of fitting a 12 foot tall, 30 foot wide banner underneath the cramped tunnels created by the construction scaffolding that seemingly covers half the sidewalks of New York. More than once I found myself floundering under a drape of canvas as we navigated through a maze of metal tubes and temporary barriers, hoping that I wouldn't run into something harder than the cameras I was cradling in my arms.
Finally, under the watchful eyes of the ever-present New York Police Department we emerged into Washton Square, where we were directed by a megaphone-wielding march marshall to "keep moving north, folks. Move north. Keep moving north. Thank you. Have a nice day. Great to see you out here. Yup, move north. You're all beautiful!" We moved north, but Seventh Avenue was already filled up by marchers, and so we filled up a side street, mingling with eachother, listening to the numerous radios broadcasting news reports on the march shuffling sideways to stay in the shadows on a hot, sunny day, and waving to the numerous New Yorkers who hung out their windows to yell their encouragement to us below.
As we were walking along I noticed several collared clergymen, and struck up conversations with both of them. Reverend Andrew reminded me of my father, and when I asked him what denomination he was ordained in, he replied, "The United Methodist Church."
"Ah," I answered, "Well then you'll know what my father does since my name is Wesley."
"Oh, ho! A Preacher's Kid!"
"Are you," Rev. Andrew began to ask as he looked at my name on my media badge, "related to the vice president?"
"No, and I don't think I can stand being asked that question for another four years," I uttered with weary repetitiveness.
In the past three days in New York City I think I have heard that question more often than I have in the past year, and I will be much relieved if I don't hear that question come the inauguration on January 20, 2005.
Predictably though, when I met the other clergyman standing in the streets with us, he also asked me if I was related to the vice president, just as a dawning recognition came over me and I asked him, "Are you...Reverend Billy?!?"
"Yes I am, my child," Rev. Billy replied in a Southern gospel drawl,
"Oh my gosh, this is such an honor! I love what you've done with the Church of Stop Shopping!" My heart skipped a beat as I asked him with a quiver in my throat, "Can I have my picture taken with you Rev. Billy? Please?"
"Of course," he replied, and we hammed it up for my camera. When I get home I'll mount my picture with Reverend Billy on the wall right next to the picture of myself with President Jimmy Carter.
A Quaker standing next to me asked Rev. Billy, "What's the Church of Stop Shopping?" http://revbilly.com/
And Rev. Billy began to tell her the good news that we can be freed from materialistic consumerism with the salvation of Jesus Christ and instead focus upon the good works of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Now here was a church that I could join, I thought to myself!) And soon Rev. Billy was assuring this young lady that it she didn't have to continue to buy "hundreds of expensive French silk dresses." I stood there slack-jawed, waiting for Rev. Billy to lay hands upon her and drive out the demons of shopping, but instead she seemed ready to contemplate in Quaker fashion how fair trade might be a spiritual discipline.
It was about that time that we finally moved onto Seventh Avenue, merging into a procession of hundreds of flag-draped coffins. As it turned out, the Quakers were the last group to join the march, and brought a concluding note of centered joy to the event. While the front of the march may have been marred by the torching of a giant paper-mache dragon, and the coffins in front of were a reminder of the human cost of war, the Quakers brought forth a witness to nonviolent social change. Yet our peaceful witness was not a witness without labor. As Deborah Brozina, a member of the 15th Street Meeting said, she wanted to march from "a center of peace," and Meeting for Worship before the march was integral to such an endeavor,
"It is a spiritual challenge to see that of God in some of the people with whom I don't agree," Deborah told me as we marched, "But I try to rememer that they may be working from the same center as in, just in a diffrent way."
While Deborah didn't personally know anyone who died on 9/11, as a small business owner in downtown Manhattan she struggled to keep her business afloat in the economic recession that hit New York City post-9/11. "I was so angry at how responded to 9/11. I did not want to be out here in the streets speaking out of anger. I struggled to be centered in the Light and speak out of the Light today."
Whereas Deborah was only marching for the second time, other Quakers were continuing a lifelong dedication to peaceful witness. Heloise Rathbone, a member of the Brooklyn Meeting, first became active during the Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980's. Steve, another member of the 15th Street Meeting, had not marched for peace in twenty years, but felt led to join in a Quaker witness because of the history of succesful social change brought about by the Society of Friends.
As the Quakers processed up Seventh Avenue, I spied a rooftop where several photographers had set up cameras. I tried the front door, but it was locked. With centered patience I waited at the door, figuring that sooner or later someone would come out. As Jesus said, "Knock and the door shall be opened," and it was, by a delegation of queer clowns headed out to the streets. I walked up four or five flights of rickety, slanting stairs before I got to the rooftop where I met up with William, who was sunbathing on the edge of the roof and cheering on the marchers below. Since the front of the march had passed underneath him three and a half hours before, William had been periodically cheering and clapping, at which point the crowd below would respond in a roar that echoed down Seventh Avenue, momentarily drowning out the drone of the police helicopters overhead. The crowd estimates ranged from 100,000 by the NYPD to 500,000 by the march organizers. And while the mainstream media was fixated upon the 200 or so arrests for minor infractions, the larger, quieter story was that hundreds of thousands of people were not arrested, but instead gave voice to the convctions of so many in the world today that war is not the answer. I shot some pictures of the coffins and Quakers below, and asked William a few questions, mindful that the half dozen police officers standing directly below us would probably not tolerate our presence overhead for long. I was soon proven right as two plainclothes police officers with badges hanging on chains from their necks joined us on the roof, ordering us off. I had gotten the pictures that I wanted, so I quickly headed down and joined up with the march again on our way towards Madison Square Garden. After passing by thousands of police officers and innumerable barricaders, the march turned back south and ended at Union Square, where we were encouraged by another march marshall with a megaphone to "Get on the Metro for free! You can ride the Metro anywhere in the city, including Central Park!" Which I did, after picking up a couple of free bananas from Seeds of Peace, a group that feeds the masses at marches for free.
Originally the march was to have ended at the Great Lawn in Central Park, but the New York City goverment denied a permit for a rally on the grounds that the grass might be damaged (never mind that several concerts with audiences in excess of 100,000 had already taken place on the Great Lawn in Central Park this summer). And so without the demagogic leadership of leftist agitators to whip the crowd up into Anti-American hatred, quite a few of the marchers headed to Central Park anyway, where they joined the many New Yorkers who normally relax with a picnic and friends on the weekend. The police lined the periphery of the Great Lawn, and the helicopters circled overhead, the television crews and photographers circled around the 3 neo-hippie girls dancing topless on the baseball diamond, but the real story was that New York City 2004 was not Chicago 1968. There were no police riots. There were no molotov cocktails. It would seem that both the police and the protestors had learned that violence is not the answer.
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