Monday, January 12, 2009

Another Perspective on Facism and Freedom

On Sat. there was a protest and march on Delmar against the State of Isreal's oppressive and murderous acts against the people of Palestine. Between 400-600 marchers were there and here is one protester's reflection on the action.

From the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 58:

"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the
commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it?Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,only a day for people to humble themselves?Is it only bowing one's head like a reedand for lying in sackcloth and ashes?Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to YHWH?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of YHWH will be your rear guard.Then you will call, and YHWH will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.YHWH will guide you always;he will satisfay your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations;you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

I read this before going to a march this past saturday. The march was to speak out against the horrible violence going on in the middle-east between Israel and Palestine, specifically to protest the gross bombings that Israel is undertaking, and the US support of them. According to a USAToday article I just checked, which was supposedly posted an hour ago, "Medical officials said the Palestinian death toll in the offensive Israel began 17 days ago had risen past 900 and included at least 380 civilians. Israel says three Israeli civilians, hit by Hamas rockets, and 10 soldiers have died." 900 people! That is too many for me. According to this article, 13 Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets. I could go on about what's going on there, but I'd rather talk about what's going on here. For info about the Palestine/Israel conflict, go here:

So saturday, I went down to the Loop with some friends of mine to protest this violence and the US support of it. I read the chapter in Isaiah before going, and prayed. To me, this was a very spiritual act. It was heartbreaking to read Isaiah's words, knowing that Israel is now using much oppression and violence, and to know that so many Christians want to support the oppression and violence being perpetrated by the US and Israel (I understand fully that there are many worse governments than that of the US, but that doesn't absolve them). Incdentally, the friends I went with were neither Arab, Jewish, or Christian. But they were humans who will not be fooled that this disgusting violence is acceptable.

We ended up being late to the march. But they were passing us as we got out of our cars, so we were able to join up pretty quickly. We brought drums and a tambourine and banners, reading "St. Louis Economy is Bombing" (with the words Raytheon and Boeing written on two bombs) and "US Economy is Tanking" and "Support Resistance" with the image of a palestinian kid using a sling shot to fling a rock at a tank.

I was holding the "Support Resistance" banner, along with a girl named Ellen. There were approximately 200-400 people (I'm horrible with estimating things)marching down the sidewalks of Delmar. There were plenty of cops. I'm guessing there were as many as 100 in the area, but maybe 40-50 out and about, in full riot armor, holding bats, with guns on their belts. Some were holding mace sprayers.

But the march was good. There were so many palestinian families there. There was a mother with three of her daughters (one in a stroller) walking next to me for most of the march. There were also many elderly people in the crowd, way more than I expected, especially because it was very cold that day. Everyone was rather excited. We were banging drums and chanting things like "We want Justice, We want Peace" (with an occasional "we want justice, not police" tossed in), "free gaza", "free palestine" (and even "free falastin", the palestinian word for the their own country), "stop the occupation now".

Did I mention is was really cold?

We turned down skinker, and as we did, Ellen said her hands were too cold to keep holding the banner, so I asked aloud if anyone wanted to help hold a banner. A young palestinian girl, maybe 13, said "I will!", and so she did. Eventually, we stopped outside a house to listen to some speakers. At this point, my hands were too cold, and my friend Angela said she'd hold the banner, and the Palestinian girl's mom helped Angela hold it. This was my favorite part of the march, because I really got to see the faces of the Palestinians, to see how excited they were to be out, voicing their disgust of the violence. There were many flags and signs. Whenever a car honked in support, cheers would erupt. At one point, a group of Palestinian boys were taking turns running a Palestinian flag across Skinker.

After the speakers were finished, we made our way back up Skinker. A lot of people were showing and voicing a desire to march in the street. Now, I know this may sound pointless, but it's not. I myself had very mixed views of the idea of taking to the streets before we went. But when you're there, and you see the faces of these people, and you see the cops, with their weapons and armor, you get the feeling that they're letting you have you're little march. That they, the ones with the force, are allowing you to excercise your right to speak out against violence, to gather together, to even walk on your sidewalks. And it's hard to just watch all the cars buzz by, knowing they're heading to stores and restaurants, unaffected by the 900 dead. So we went into the street, taking up a hardly used lane. When we got back to Delmar, the cops starting letting us know that we shouldn't be in the street. We let them know that we didn't care (we were barely in the street, walking mostly in a turn lane and around parked cars). I remember the look on one lady's face, in her SUV with her daughter. She was very angry that we were blocking her way, violently gesturing toward the sidewalk. Apparently, she was offended that she had to wait 5 minutes for all these mourning and celebrating free people to walk past her car.

The cops starting getting more adamant, and I simply said, "Walk around them." and so we did. One of my friends attempted walking in the street, maybe a foot or two out from a parked car, and cops (bats in hand) pushed up against him. He tried to continue, and they threw him to the ground.

At this point, an interesting thing happened. In my mind, I saw myself diving on top of him. Unfortunately, I thought too long. Fortunately, they weren't beating him. Michael and I ran up to the cops, who had already formed a line, holding their bats out to the crowd, and starting yelling at them to let him go. I was very angry, which was odd, because I'm rarely angry, especially like that. The crowd stopped, and we all started shouting "Let him go!!!" After a few minutes, they released him. One cop foolishly told my friend Michael to make sure everyone stayed on the sidewalk, and Michael rightly said "I can't promise that."

We continued down Delmar, meeting more and more cops as we went. But spirits were up. Since I was no longer carrying the banner, I had been banging on a small drum. Which gets tiring. But I found the drumming to be very important. It makes us more visible, and encourages everyone to keep marching and keep chanting.

We made our way back to City Hall (which wasn't the smartest place, as it is right next to a jail). While we were waiting for the crowd to cross the street, some friends and I, with drums and a bugle, waited in the street til everyone got across. The cops kept telling us to get on the sidewalk, and we kept telling them we were waiting for everyone to get across. Eventually, we packed the sidewalk, the steps, and the lawn, and were still occasionally pouring out onto the curb. An 80-year-old lady spoke to the crowd, and after, we continued our drumming and chanting. My friends Ryan and Amanda started dancing with each other on the curb. The cops didn't like this very much. They told them to get off the street (apparently, they were oblivious to the dozens of cops standing in the street blocking traffic. Personally, I'd much rather be blocked by two young people dancing than by two dozen large men with bats and guns). Now, the sidewalks were packed. As Ryan and Amanda tried to dance back to the sidewalk, a cop threw Amanda down, and then threw Ryan down, one shoving his knee in the back of Ryan's head. I was about 5 feet from them when this happened. They were immediately surrounded by cops, again holding their bats to the crowd. Michael and I again started screaming at the cops to let them go. I noticed that they don't look you in the eye in these situations. As they took them to the jail, some of us attempted to follow them, but cops and "peacekeepers" (a group of people who apparently were trying to keep the march peaceful, but really just ended up being as useless as the cops, and pissing us off) were blocking our way. Jake (the one who was arrested earlier) had gotten past them, and then turned to come back (the whole time being on the sidewalk). As he walked back, a cop yelled at him that he was under arrest, and he told the cop that he had the right to walk on the sidewalks, at which point the cop tackled him to the grass. I saw this, too. Again, we started yelling. Trying to keep everyone chanting "let them go" was pretty hard at this point. I was tired, and I think everyone felt done, and were probably afraid of all the large men with bats, guns, and mace. Someone tried changing the chant from "let them go" to "we want peace". The cops, again for some reason thinking Michael was the head of something, told him to get the crowd to disperse, and they would let them go. Someone tried to get people to chant "Let them go, and we will go", but that lasted maybe 20 seconds.

I felt absolutely horrible asking people to leave so that my friends could be released. I felt like a traitor. That I was simply encouraging the bullying taking place. But many of the people felt they had achieved what they came to do, and so left. One Palestinian woman, however, started yelling in the megaphone that we shouldn't leave, that this was exactly what they came to speak out against, the State bullying people, forcing them to stay in their place. She was so right. I was so thankful for her. But I still wanted my friends out of jail.

So we packed up our drums and banners and walked to the jail (it was just right next door to the city hall). The cops were trying to block us from coming near the jail, being so ridiculous as to tell us to cross the street, despite the fact that there was a perfectly good sidewalk right there. Eventually, we crossed back over. After about twenty minutes, some guy, who we're all pretty sure was a cop, came out and told us that they have to process them, and that they'd let them go in 30-45 minutes. About 20 of us stuck around. Did I mention it was very cold? Sean didn't have a coat, so I let him wear mine for a bit. Eventually, someone got him one from their car. The people that stayed were our group, some of the peacekeepers and members of Instead of War, and a group of young Palestinian women who had met Amanda from a previous action.They let them out one at a time, with about 10 minutes in between. Ryan's face was scuffed up and swollen. Jake came out in his boxers and tights (which I'm hoping he was wearing to keep warm) because they told him he could only have one pair of pants on. Then we went to a friend's apartment for tea and peanut butter sandwiches.

So that's what happened. That is what happens here when incredibly peaceful people want to cry out against the perpetration and support of violence. I felt bad for the Palestinians, who found that they are neither free at home or here. That they are being forced to stay in lines, being watched by armed and armored men. It was disgusting to me that the cops would display bats, guns, and mace in front of children and elderly people, especially ones who are crying out against oppression.

The thing that really bothers me is that when telling this story to people, they start to defend the cops, saying that they need to be there, they had reason to be paranoid, that that is what happens when you don't do what the cops tell you to, that we can't be in the street without a permit, that some people are looking for a fight. The cops were useless. They weren't protecting us. They were there to arrest us, beat us, mace us, or shoot us if any of us got out of line (the majority of the "us" being families). And they weren't there to protect the people on Delmar. We weren't attacking them. This was a very peaceful and celebratory march.

According to, fascism is "a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism." Now, what happened wasn't strictly that, but it looked and felt way more like that than like freedom.I love reading the book of Isaiah, although it can be hard, especially at times like these. I hate that so many look to force and oppresion, to robbing people of life, freedom, and homes in order to make a more perfect world. That people want to perpetuate what is going on. Want to defend horrible actions like cops throwing dancers to the ground, or manufacturing bombs to be used on civilians, or want to continue shopping and living in luxury while so many are being robbed of a home. Obama was promising change, but he and so many other people in power just want to continue doing things as we have been, saying that more money and more force will fix the problem, blaming the victims for the pain in their lives. We're all ignoring Isaiah's words, that the way to freedom is by breaking every yoke, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, sharing our homes, setting the oppressed free. Then, and only then, will our healing quickly appear, will our light will shine in the darkness.

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