Hope for Love and Peace
Blossom in Washington DC:
A Witness to Sept. 29, 2001
by Carol Brouillet
For months I had planned to go to Washington DC to protest the IMF, World Bank, FTAA, Bush, and to help organize the next World Social Forum. In August I joined with others from the Bay Area who wanted to go as an "affinity group." The first time we met, we shared all the various issues which we were concerned with and brainstormed on an "umbrella" theme. We became very creative and excited over launching a campaign against child slavery, the consumption of cheap goods that come at an incredibly high human and environmental cost (our focal point- cocoa, where 43% of the world's supply comes from the Ivory Coast and child slavery). We became "The Chocolate Block" and began doing research, dreaming up skits , props, labels which we could create to launch a boycott against chocolate, and raise consciousness about all the other issues linked to the production of "consumer goods" and human and environmental exploitation.
On September 11th, we were all so profoundly shocked and upset by the attacks that I seriously doubted if I would go to Washington, D.C. under the circumstances. Although the movement in general has been deeply opposed to the W.T.O., I.M.F., World Bank, and militarization, such violence seemed utterly without purpose, as I could not imagine how anyone could benefit from the attacks. In a weak joke, I said that the only one I knew who would benefit would be my son, Jeremy, because his birthday is on September 29th, and I would be home instead of in Washington DC. I was horrified by the "war mantra" that I heard from the mainstream press and the Orwellian rhetoric spouted by Bush.
The Chocolate Block met in San Francisco and we poured out our hearts to one another, and wondered what we could do, as activists, to ameliorate the suddenly grave crisis- World War III- which seemed to loom upon the near horizon. The closure of the Washington DC airport logistically prevented our beloved April from even getting to DC! Bombarded by renewed mass media threats of the likelihood of future attacks- nuclear, biological, chemical, as well as hijackings, fear seemed to be the prevalent mood of the country- paralyzing many activist groups as well as individuals.
What gives me strength and energy is my Love and passion for life, for my children, my husband, my family, my friends, for nature, for people; what I hate most is fear and pain. I have always tried to never let fear prevent me from doing what I want to do, no matter how "dangerous" the path that I choose appears to be. Knowing that there would be major demonstrations for Peace, and knowing how strongly needed such demonstrations were at this moment in history, I couldn't let Fear prevent me from going. It was also wonderful to have a few of the Chocolate Block commit themselves to going. On Sunday, before the big demonstrations, we gathered again in San Francisco to talk, eat apple pie, but primarily to paint a banner which we could carry in the demonstrations.
On pale turquoise cloth we painted a mantra, a quote from Alice Walker, "One Earth One People One Love" encircling an image of our planet with a heart imposed upon it surrounded by a group of people holding hands. The next day, a wonderful woman and her ten year old friend came to my house to help me sew up the banner. We added purple edges for the bamboo poles and I added a pale yellow backing with the words One Air One Water One Hope- Respect All Life with an image of three connected circles. Since my friends were connected with the pagans, and we had originally thought to do some theatre and perhaps represent the elements; I also made sashes to represent Earth, People, Love, Air, Water, Hope which we could wear during the demonstrations.
On September 28th, I got up early to get to the airport in plenty of time to pass through the long lines at Check-In and Security. There was a young black woman standing in front of me, trying to get home to Indiana. She had come to the airport at 6:30 a.m., but couldn't get through because she had forgotten her I.D.. We talked for a long time. She was in the army, and told me with surprising candor that all the intelligence people were at conferences in Arizona and California when the bombing happened. She didn't believe the stuff that was coming out in the papers, the ridiculous stories like the one about the hijackers passport floating safely down to the rubble of the World Trade Center. What disturbed her the most was how foreign military personnel had access to Top Secret buildings on her base which she wasn't allowed into. She was very sharp and politically aware. I told her about my activism and my knowledge of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A.'s activities, and she said towards the end of our conversation that I was the first white person she could talk to about these topics. I liked her a lot and gave her a hug before we parted.
The plane was late; I missed my connection in Chicago. I didn't arrive in Baltimore until midnight and miraculously was offered a lift to Washington D.C. by a pilot from Continental airlines. We had another long political discussion- we agreed on the how terribly the C.I.A. had behaved historically, including all the governments that they have overthrown and their support and arming of the Osama bin Laden terrorist network in Afganistan, but he was willing to sacrifice freedoms and welcomed stronger security measures in the United States.
At three a.m. I found the youth hostel and finally got to lay down for a few hours, before my alarm went off at seven a.m.. The youth hostel was far from everything, but I had hoped that friends and a group from Women's International League for Peace and Freedom would also be staying there, but they didn't come. I did meet a young woman, Brenda, at the hostel who was also with the pagan cluster.
September 29th at 9:00 a.m. Brenda and I were supposed to meet with the Pagan Cluster in front of Union Station.. We went together, but we were five minutes late and missed everyone. Some tourists and police helpfully pointed us in the right direction where we met with the Chocolate Block and the pagans in the trees of the enormous park surrounding the Capitol.
We formed a circle, grounded ourselves, prepared to march. I found many other familiar faces, media activists, whom I had known from earlier adventures. Sarah was in blue to represent "Water," I wore blue to represent "Air," the Jims were "Earth and Love," My friend Amanda Bellerby, who was taping for the Independent Media Center (http://www.indymedia.org) was "People" and I gave "Hope" to a young woman who subsequently disappeared. The march was organized (disorganized) by the Anti-Capitalist Convergence Center, they hadn't obtained a legal permit, and seemed wildly spontaneous, although with all the signs, great art, energy, obviously people were prepared and ready to demonstrate. There was lots of singing, chanting, noise and I had no idea how many of us there were, but I was very glad to be a part of the demonstration.
I had thought that my "Chocolate Block" was determined to participate in safe, clearly peaceful demonstrations, but it seemed that they were part of the larger pagan block which was prepared to encounter greater risk and split into two groups- a safe one and a riskier one, should the occasion arise. We each had a buddy. My buddy was Amanda whom I've known for years and dearly Love.
At one point we stopped in front of the World Bank building (I recognized it from earlier demonstrations), where our path was blocked by police. The pagans decided to circle up and dance. Then Starhawk suggested another ritual- exorcising the World Bank. A length of white muslin was unfurled and everyone wrote what they did not like about the World Bank and the I.M.F. with markers. It wasn't long before the litany of horrendous things filled the cloth. Then we began to rip and shred the cloth, tearing it into the smallest possible pieces. It was very gratifying- a wonderful idea! By this time, the police had us thoroughly surrounded. The safe flag (which the group that wanted to be safe was supposed to follow) was nowhere to be seen. The Black Bloc were playing a wild game of soccer, and the ball was going all over the place, once passing through our group and once bouncing off a policeman's foot. I was glad the police let the ball stay in play. After we had chanted, danced and completed our ritual, it felt like it was time to go.
We relinquished the street and sat in the grass and had something to eat. The BIG march was scheduled to start in Freedom Plaza at noon, which was where we wanted to go. An activist made a sign saying "GW's prison." Luckily some journalists from major networks were trapped with us which discouraged the authorities from ignoring all human decency. I tried to talk with the police and told them that we wanted to go or to talk to someone who could let us go. We regrouped and chose a spokesperson to meet with spokespeople from other clusters.
Eventually the police said that they would let us go and began to herd us. I rolled up the banner and held hands with Amanda, the crowd was dense and a bit nervous. We didn't know if they might attack us or arrest us, and we thoroughly rejoiced when we saw that we were going to be allowed to join the rally where ten or twenty thousand people had gathered to oppose War and Racism.
The demonstration originally was to "Beat Back the Bush Attack" and there had been an earlier call to surround the White House, but when the powers that be feared that 100,000 people would descend on DC for the protests they decided to build a huge fence around the White House, I.M.F., and World Bank buildings and the park where the permitted rally was supposed to be held. With the cancellation of the IMF and World Bank meetings, they decided the fence was not necessary, but at the last minute the organizers were forced to change the rally and march locations under pressure from the Secret Service. The International Action center was the main organizer, but after September 11th other groups joined to form a new coalition- A.N.S.W.E.R. Act Now to Stop War & End Racism. We were a couple hours late and missed most of the speeches. There were so many people that it was hard to hear them, unless you were near the sound system.
There was incredible art, puppets, messages. The Chocolate Block split again and a few went to join another gathering, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, at a different park. Sarah and I stayed and found her friends for the big march to the capitol. I had never been in such a large demonstration; it was so hard to guess numbers when people surrounded me as far as the eye could see in multiple directions. At the rally at the far end of the march, students from all over the country announced their presence and how many people had spent how many hours on buses to participate. In one of the last speeches, a Green Party member said, " On September 11th ten years ago, George Bush Sr. first announced the 'New World Order...' He warned us that this war was, again, over oil."
That evening there was a marathon Interfaith Service at a local church, with more speeches, very powerful ones, music, lots of singing and wise words from leaders of many religions. A woman from the Unitarian Church reminded us of the theme of the World Social Forum "Another World is Possible," and added that "Another World is- not merely possible but- necessary." I couldn't have agreed more.
On Sunday another march for peace was organized by the Washington Peace Center which threaded its way though two and a half miles of neighborhoods. Thousands of people came with even more fabulous art, music, singing and energy. There were lots of kids in this one and small children. In the middle of the march we stopped in a park where two Kurds had been holding vigil and spoke on behalf of the Kurdish people.
By the time I finished that march, I was rather exhausted. Ben Sher, a friend of mine, a member of P.O.C.L.A.D. and W.I.L.P.F. who had joined our Chocolate Block, and helped carry the banner much of the way,took me on over to see the Anti-Capitalist Convergence Center where there was an extraordinary huge intricate work of art depicting the F.T.A.A. created by the Beehive Collective.
Monday I met with activists in Union Station to prepare for our lobbying efforts with Senators' Boxer and Feinstein staff and our local Congresspeoples' Eshoo and Honda staff. Our main purpose was to push for debt relief for the Third World, the passage of H.R. 2604 which would close loopholes and instruct the World Bank to not impose user fees on their loans, and force them to greater transparency. But we also expressed our concern over other issues- including Fast Track, the F.T.A.A., "War," and the threat to Civil Liberties. We were able to say that we felt that the attack on the World Trade Center should be considered a crime against humanity and handled in the International Court of Law.
Later, we went to Representative Barbara Lee's office to bring her flowers, hugs, warm wishes for her vote and voice against war, and her courageous stance for reason, restraint and peace.
That evening, I was very tired, but I went to see the excellent film, "Life and Debt" about Jamaica and how it has been affected by the World Bank, the I.M.F. and globalization. Then I joined friends at the Independent Media Center for two more films on Terrorism, and a lively discussion with people from many countries.
October 2nd was Gandhi's birthday. I met with my Chocolate Block friend, Jim, at the statue of Gandhi, in front of the Indian Embassy. Many people brought flowers and shared silence and words before the statue. Jim and I held hands with others and touched the stone beneath the statue to include the Earth and the spirit of Gandhi in our circle. We each spoke from our hearts. I believe there has never been a greater need for "the pursuit of truth," Satyagraha and the nurturing of global nonviolent peace forces.
As I flew home, I spoke at length with a woman who had just been to a conference on "Appreciative Inquiry." Now is the time to ask the right questions- Why? And How can we transform our violent culture into a peaceful culture before it is too late? The answer seemed rather clear- each of must do whatever we can within our own circles- we must be the change we wish to see in the world.