by Chloe Jon Paul
July 4, 2006... the day we celebrated the 230th year of our independence and freedom from the tyranny of George the Third. I had joined my Code Pink sisters and our supporters for a fast in front of the White House. After our own little ceremony of prayer, song, and reflection, we moved down to Constitution Avenue where the parade was passing. We kept to the sidewalks as we didn’t have a permit to march in the street.
We walked through the parade of observers softly chanting “Peace Now”. At one point along Constitution Avenue and 14th Street, we stopped to watch the marching bands and floats pass by.
It was then that a young Iraq War vet opposing this war decided to step over the barrier rope to march in the parade. Park police wrestled with him to prevent him from doing so. In the scuffle with police, he was knocked down but got up and attempted to get to the street again. The police then grabbed him, put him in handcuffs, and escorted him to the paddy wagon.
It was at this moment that a little silver-haired lady who is only 4’8”, 96 pounds, and in her 70th year, lost it completely. Quickly making her way to the barrier rope, she stepped over and loudly announced: “If you’re going to arrest him, then you’re going to have to arrest me too.
The park police did their best to dissuade her but she resisted their attempts to get her back behind the rope and another scuffle ensued. She was promptly handcuffed and put into the wagon along with the young veteran to be taken to the district station where they would be booked.
That woman was me and I’m here to say that I have no regrets about what I did.
Jeff and I shared a holding cell and I listened to his story. This young man of 25 suffered from a serious leg injury while still in training but was sent to Iraq anyway. While serving there, he was told by medics that it was “ nothing to worry about” even after his leg turned black because of blood clotting. Today he walks with a cane limping along.
That was not the reason he protests this war. He was there and saw what it has done to countless innocent people there. It haunts him and he also suffers from what has been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress syndrome. So he is doing what every human being has the right to do - to protest injustice.
Now I find it ironic that a young soldier who did a tour of duty in Iraq to keep our country “free” doesn’t have the right to walk in our Independence Day parade on the streets of our nation’s capitol - on a day when we celebrate all those freedoms - in particular, freedom of speech.
Mark Twain once wrote: “Patriotism means being loyal to your country all of the time and to its government when it deserves it”.
For me, truer words were never spoken.
For a number of years I was a volunteer facilitator in conflict resolution workshops, both in prisons and the community. I received my training for this work under the auspices of the Alternatives to Violence Project, an international organization. Thinking back on the highly successful workshops that I’ve done in the past, I can’t help thinking how I would love to have a three day workshop with the leaders of the world. Just give me three days to lead them in a series of interactive exercises that would teach them something about communication, cooperation, creative problem-solving, and bias awareness. I bet it could make a difference.
After I returned home from this Fourth of July “celebration”, I tried to relax a bit and felt drawn to listen to an Andrea Boccelli album called Sogno. There is a duet that he sings with Celine Dion and it’s called “The Prayer”. The lyrics that touch me so deeply, translated into English, are from the third verse :
Give us faith so we’ll be safe
We dream of a world with no more violence
A world of justice and hope
As a symbol of peace and brotherhood.
Those words resonate in my head and encourage me to continue in my protest of this immoral war. I fell asleep remembering the smile on that young vet’s face when I told him: “There was no way that I was going to let you be jailed all alone. Tell your mom that I did this for her”.