April / May Actions against War & Global Scorching

Photo of April / May Actions against War & Global Scorching

Dear Friends,

Below is a short, summary report about what turned out to be a very significant long weekend for The Shalom Center in New York, April 29 tp May 1, 2006.

The Shalom Center was a member of three coalitions that were active in the streets that weekend: Climate Crisis Campaign, working on "global scorching"; Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq, which was working against the war and against the use of torture by the US government, and calling for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo; and the Darfur Coalition.

Ted Glick of the Climate Crisis Coalition writes:

In New York, Saturday, April 29th, was an inspiring and hopeful spring day. We were joined by hundreds of thousands of people marching down Broadway in lower Manhattan in a huge demonstration against the war and in support of other policy change to "turn our country around."

Among those marching were students from Middlebury College in Vermont carrying an impressive 20-foot-wide banner which read, "No More Oil Wars--Clean Energy Now!" The march was coordinated by United for Peace and Justice. Among the nine initiating groups were CCC and Friends of the Earth.

At the rally before the march, Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey, a CCC steering committee member, spoke, along with Susan Sarandon, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Brent Blackwelder, Cindy Sheehan and others. "We bring to this movement the understanding that ending the war against the environment must also be a central element in our broad work for peace and justice,” he said. “The Climate Crisis Coalition realizes that the unhealthy, oil-driven U.S. economy is an engine that propels both resource wars and the relentless attack against the natural environment itself. Our call is for rational and intelligent civil society actions, responsible consumption, and national policies required to create a sustainable environment, and from this, a sustainable future for all of us.

"We urge all who are gathered here to realize that the issues of peace, justice and environmental sustainability are inextricably bound together in a web of mutuality. We will work for peace and justice with the deep and firm understanding that there can be neither justice nor peace unless our planet itself survives."

For several hours following the march, CCC had a constantly busy table as part of the Peace and Justice Festival in Foley Square. We collected hundreds of signatures on our Kyoto and Beyond petition, gave out close to a thousand pieces of literature and sold large numbers of "Stop Global Warming" buttons. We have rarely experienced such support for our work.

The Shalom Center had its own table at this tent, and gave out a great deal of information on our Beyond Oil campaign.

Then on Sunday, April 30th, CCC held a very successful, all-day conference at the headquarters of 1199/Service Employees International Union in midtown Manhattan. A hundred people attended from organizations in 20 states, Canada and England.

We heard moving, informative and thought-provoking speakers during morning and afternoon sessions. We also met in workshops to discuss: the Mayors’ Climate Agreement and other local initiatives, organizing mass street-based actions, getting congressional candidates to adopt a pro-climate agenda in this year’s midterm elections, and faith-based initiatives.

The Shalom Center decided that our staff needed to be present at this day-long conference / workshop and so staff did not take a physical part in the Darfur rally held that same day in Washington DC. -- We had earlier strongly endorsed the campaign to end genocide in Darfur, and hundreds of our members and Shalom Report subscribers did join the rally.

Ted Glick, one of the organizers of the Climate Crisis Coalition, writes: "The feedback has been reassuring -– attendees found the conference worthwhile and inspiring. And we believe the event provided us renewed momentum for our activities and helped improve links between organizations.

"Our movement is clearly growing and we look forward to working together with a growing number of allies -- those in attendance and others -- to make 2006 a year of significant progress in climate awareness and political action."

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Repent, Resist, Renew: Report by Rev Osagefyu Sekou, coordinator of Clergy & Laity Concerned About Iraq, about its work on April 29-May 1

With humble hearts, we repent for
The silence of our religious communities
in the face of wanton wars.

With sacred rage, we deploy our righteous indignation
to resist both indifference and injustice.

In the tradition of liberation and rebirth,
we prayerfully renew our commitment to turn
our nation from a path of empire and war-making to
a way of peace, justice, and democracy
in service to the least among us.

April 29th, 2006

Our theme for the weekend of activities centered on the March for Peace, Justice and Democracy was Repent, Resist, and Renew.

On the morning of April 29th, CALC-I held an interfaith Sabbath service and contingency gathering at 19th street and 5th avenue. The service was led by Rabbi Dr. Arthur Waskow, Director of The Shalom Center.

Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Muslim, and Jewish clergy participated in the service. We were scheduled to begin at 10:00am. However, the New York City Department Police Department refused to allow us to close the street at 10:00am and would not let use the stage and sound system and allowed traffic to flow through the gathering area until 11:00am.

A United Church of Christ minister led the group of about 200 in singing freedom songs until 11:00am on the sidewalk. Once the street was closed and the service began, the crowd grew to close to 1,000 folks including, the Global Peace and Justice Ministry of Riverside Church, the New York Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quakers), the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and other communities of faith.

The interfaith contingent marched together to Foley Square. At the CALC-I tent in Foley Square, we encountered the same challenges with the police. They would not allow amplified sound, even a bullhorn. Around 150 people attended the shortened program in the tent, which included an abbreviated workshop by Interfaith Voices on interfaith organizing.

Later Saturday evening at Middle Collegiate Church, an interfaith revival was convened. The service attendance was very small -- only about 40 people -- but was quite moving. One person remarked that it was “soothing” after a long march. Rabbi Or Rose, Director, Jewish Seminarians for Justice, Rev. Dr. Rita Brock, co-director, Faith Voices for the Common Good, Rabbi Waskow, Rev. Claudia De La Cruz, Associate Pastor, Church of Oscar Romero, El Hajj Salim Alraey, Imam, Islamic Cultural Center, El Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, Imam, Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Ve. Suhita Bhante Dharma, Priest, Chua Dieu Phap Buddhist Temple, Rev. Dr. Dennis Jacobsen, Executive Director, Gamaliel National Clergy Caucus, Kathy Engel, Poet, and Drew Dellinger, Poet were among the speakers. Vicki Boatwright of Columbus, Ohio read a Statement on Beyond Iraq that was coordinated online by Faith Voices for the Common Ground.

April 30th, 2006

Rev. Dr. Brock, who is a steering committee member of CALC-I delivered the morning sermon at Park Avenue Christian Church.

Frida Berrigan and the Catholic Worker led a workshop on nonviolent civil disobedience at the Riverside Church. About 20 or so folks attended. Rev. Straut, Interim Minister of Social Justice attended the training.

May 1st

CALC-I and the Catholic Worker led a series of events at the UN calling for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison.

At 10:00 am an interfaith service was held at the UN Church Center. The church center was standing room only. The liturgy focused on those imprisoned and tortured at home and aboard. Rev. Dr. Earl Kooperkamp, Pastor, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church-Manhattanville orchestrated the service. Four rabbis – Arthur Waskow, Michael Feinberg, Barry Leff, and Hahn – spoke at various points in these services.

Immediately after the service, there was a press conference. Representatives from Rabbis for Human Rights, family members of those held in Guantanamo, and an immigrant rights activist were among the speakers. Reporters from Reuters and Associated Press International Television and the New York Sun attended the press conference.

After the press conference, we gathered two by two at the Plowshare statue in front of the Isaiah Wall. Over 200 hundred people with over 40 clergy of representing 15 faith traditions engaged in a silent march with individuals dressed in orange jumpsuits. Clergy escorted people with their faces hooded with a caged prisoner behind them and other clergy and lay leaders following. We traveled up 43rd Street and turned up Third Avenue as people were shocked, moved, and few angered by our presence. It was powerful witness -- the eloquence of prophetic silence.

Guantanamo Action Leaders

Once we arrived to the U.S. Mission to the UN those willing to risk arrest those and those who chose to be supportive witnesses separated. The supportive witnesses went into a “safe zone” behind barricades across the street from the U.S. mission and those risking arrest settled in the front of the entrance of building that the U.S. mission is located. Rabbi Arthur Waskow; Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director, Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition; Rev. Jamie Washam, Pastor, Underwood Memorial Church-Milwaukee, WI; Rev. Winnie Varghese, Episcopal Chaplin, Columbia University; Rev. Dr. G. Simon Harak, SJ, Anti-Militarism Coordinator, War Resisters League; Ethan Vessely-Flad, Editor, Fellowship Magazine; Rev. John Rodgers, Pastor, Interfaith Church, Portland, OR; Carol Nixon, Director, Mission and Social Justice at Riverside, and Judith LeBlanc, National Co-Chair, United for Peace and Justice were among those 60 so folk willing to risk arrest.

A litany of remembrance began as those in the safe zone began to read the accounts of the prisoners held in Guantanamo and hooded individuals stood up among the potential arrestees with clergy holding up the names of those in Guantanamo whose accounts were being read across the street.

We soon learned that the potential arrestees were standing in a zone deemed neutral and would not lead to arrests. We then moved closer to the front door of the building and with many folks kneeling to pray. And we continued to read the miserable and heart wrenching testimonies of those who are in bondage.

We were then told that we would not be arrested. The building owner saw that we were peaceful and noted that our witness had been heard. We were told that we could enter the building without arrest and that at least 100 individuals could be escorted up to the U.S. mission offices on the 4th Floor and engage in civil disobedience.

However, the charges would be federal, not a NYC misdemeanor. Conferring with Matt Dialasio of the Catholic Worker, who had served as the lead negotiator with the police, and others, we concluded that we had at least ten first time arrestees (among them Jazz musician Bill Apollo Brown -- a member of Riverside Church) with us and that we had not prepared them for such an ordeal. (Folks had been informed that they would receive a “ticket” and be released in a few hours.)

The stiffer penalty would guarantee a night in the “Tombs” with an arraignment the following day. A pastoral decision was made not to put our folks in that predicament. Frida Berrigan, Rev. Washam, and I gave statements to the press, including CNN and they quickly left.

We called those gathered across the street to join us in front of the building. We claimed the place that housed the U.S. mission to the U.N. as sacred space; we sang freedom songs and went through the interfaith service. We left after about 45 minutes of singing and interfaith celebration.

Comment by Arthur Waskow: I understand the decision to forego further effort to challenge the US Mission itself, though I think it would have been preferable to invite those present to make a new choice as to whether they wished to seek to enter the Mission itself, risking arrest if necessary. I think the minimal media coverage the event ended up with was a result of not having the final step of nonviolent protest, as the media had been expecting. And in the absence of that coverage, the call to shut down Guantanamo was much less widely heard than it might have been.

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