Thursday, May 06, 2004

Protest Notes for Wolfowitz's Philadelphia Visit Today 

The e-mail from The Shalom Center and The Brandywine Peace Community said to meet at Dock and Front streets today. There were small factions of separate groups milling around when I arrived, most obvious were the group of clergy with their coats and white collars. And the group of West Philadelphia anarchist types with Mumia signs. The anarchists left about five minutes after I arrived. I overheard several complaining that the news cameras were only there because of the white collars. I laughed and said, "Don't you think it's really because Wolfowitz is hear to speak in place of Rumsfeld that the cameras are hear?" They glared at me and carried their signs and banners off in the direction of Penn's Landing.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arrived at 1pm to address the World Affairs Council at the Hyatt Regency near Penn's Landing in Philadelphia today, in place of Donald Rumsfeld, who has plenty of other things to address elsewhere.

A woman named Kitty needed help with her banner, and asked if I'd like to stand on the North west corner of Walnut and Delaware with a huge sign that said US OUT OF IRAQ! There were not very many of us, 50 altogether, but for a small group, the tactic to have HUGE signs and spread out on all corners of the busy avenue was a very smart idea.

For two hours I stood there with this sign, which was the first thing vehicles headed south would see as they'd approach the stoplight. 90% of everyone, no matter what race, gender, what model or make of car they were in, gave honks and thumbs up. That was a great experience frankly. The most enthusiastic were the men of Waste Management in their garbage trucks, hooting and shooting peace signs. The FTD Florist guy smiled and waved, he was so goddamed handsome!

There were of course those who screamed and told us to DIE and gave us the finger. At one point this car full of pimply, angry hothead young white guys with shaved heads screamed something I couldn't hear. THEN, remarkably, threw a handful of (of all things!) Fritos at me at the red light! Well, of ALL the American snack foods presently on your local mini-mart's shelves, Fritos is my FAVORITE! I picked a couple up and ate them and thanked them with a smile, and they got honked at for extending their stay at the light to see what the hell I was doing. They called me a faggot (which, to their credit, was a perfect call), and drove off, honking and screaming at the next corner of protesters.

An old man with a VFW baseball cap came up to us, each of us, and YELLED, spitting, literally spitting with anger, pointing to the direction of the Korean War Memorial and telling us to honor, not shame the dead who died for us. I pointed across the street, where, at the South East corner were a group of people with a bell and bullhorn who were listing the names of the dead in Iraq.

"Do you hear that? We ARE honoring the dead. Those are--"

"--SHUT UP! I know what they're doing!"

He took a photograph of a couple of young women near me with signs which read PEACE IS PATRIOTIC! I thought maybe they could talk some sense into him. One of the young women started to speak to him about what her sign meant, and he said to her, "I'M GETTING THIS PHOTO DEVELOPED SO I CAN PLAY DARTS WITH IT!"

He was outnumbered though. All those in favor of war and occupation were outnumbered on those corners of Philadelphia today. When I wasn't dealing with the few counter protests, I was standing there, in the sun, soaking in the slightly distant, though very clear-sounding names of the dead being read. A man would read a name of a soldier (many many Latino names I noticed), and someone would strike a very loud, low-toned bell, which would resonate into the next name. After about a dozen of these American soldier's names, he'd pass the bullhorn to a woman who would read a dozen names of Iraqi's killed in the war.

It was interesting hearing both sets of names weaving together, across the bright day of busy commuters, half of which on cell phones, irritated by the traffic which was slowing to see what we were up to.

A Lincoln Towncar pulled over at the red light, and an old man leaned over his white haired wife and yelled, "YOU SHOULD TURN THAT AROUND!" What? "YOUR SIGN!" You mean instead of US OUT OF IRAQ, IRAQ OUT OF US!? "YOU HEAR ME! YOU HEAR ME!" What the FUCK was that old man smoking this morning? I am wondering now, hmm, well, what was that? What the HELL did he mean, exactly!?

George Washington crossed that river just behind us some 230 years ago. And an hour into the protest we got to see the police escort bring Wolfowitz up the street. There he was, and he walked quickly into the front door, followed by (odd) about a dozen or so young boys--maybe 13 or 14?--in identical suits with blue and yellow emblems on the upper left of each jacket. What the hell was that about? Some junior Republican squad? The names of the dead continued through his arrival, his speech, and his departure. The wooden teeth of Washington petrified, and petrified.

At one point a photographer from the Philadelphia Inquirer took my photo. He said I was photogenic, which flipped my spring fever switch, as I thought he was fetching. He told me to move a certain way, and I said that that was unethical to ask me to stand a certain way. He was amused, and quite sexy in his amusement. He asked me who I was with, and I said, "Well the Philly Sound Poets of course!" The what? He wanted to know more. These middle aged newspaper men have a kind of weird film over them, how do I describe it? Something that makes them kind of grubby, but serious, and seriously HOT! I could go on...

There were a few rainbow banners for peace, and they came over to talk to me, having remembered me from when I worked at Giovanni's Room. One of the lesbians asked if I'd like to stand with them, and, I don't know where exactly this came from, but I said, "I'm a poet queer, not a queer poet." We were all confused. But it was clear it was a no. But it was okay that they asked, and nice that they asked. And it was kind of cool that they were out there. I'm just tired of talking about being queer. I just want to have my life with poems, and have sex with various boyfriends, and that's about that. My friends don't care that I'm queer, and I don't care that they're not queer, unless of course they are queer, and everyone's fine with everyone.

The clergy were interesting, very serious looking, and answering all kinds of questions for the cameras and reporters. I hate the church, any church, but really, I need to shut up once in a while, and see what I already know: that there are some pretty fucking radical folks in the church. Their banner had a drawing of Martin Luther King, and a quote from him about War No More! One woman pastor, she had something to say to the reporters about King and his protest of the Vietnam War. I like that she brought that up, because it is something that can reach all kinds of people that might not be so reachable.

Hundreds and hundreds of photographs of the dead from this war, rows and columns of photographs on these large black and white banners along the avenue. It was something that made the protest very VERY potent.

For those of you living East of Broad Street in Philadelphia, you'll be glad to know that Randolph was present. He's running for Congress as an independent in the 1st District this year. Here's his website: http://www.randolph04.org

Also there were members of the Committee to End the Occupation of Iraq: http://www.endocciraq.org And they are having a forum they are calling Iraq Challenges the US Occupation on Friday, May 21st, 7pm, at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street.

Also, TONIGHT at the Quaker Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, the film ABOUT BAGHDAD will be showing. http://www.aboutbaghdad.com

Maybe I'll see you there!

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