On April 23 1999 the day for me started earlier than usual, after a sleepless night i arrived at the vigil about 6:30 am for the beginning of the NATO activities, which for us became official at noon, with the closing of the park. Because of security for the party barricades had been erected throughout the park to set up a buffer zone for safety of the warlords or maybe just to provide space so the expanded uniformed presence could mingle more comfortably.
Thomas had held that this closing was illegal and intended not to comply or to indulge their paranoia. We moved our signs to safety just before the noon deadline, but Thomas, with a new sign, bravely stood his ground. About 12:10 officers surrounded Thomas and let him present his argument for about 20 minutes, then he was handcuffed and led to the waiting paddywagon, his sign was removed within the next 15 minutes. In the process of all this happening the stage was being set for round two, the Albanian pro-NATO demonstration.
In past rallies the Albanian's have been a rather rowdy group of individuals. Extremely intense pro-USA, pro-NATO, pro-ground troops and pro-bombing. Strongly anti-Serb and wanting a free Kosovo. They tend to be the most aggressive group since i arrived in Sept 98, in the past tearing up other protesters signs if they differed in ideology. Today would be no different, except of course for the restricted view i had from my new location, necessary "security" precautions, snow-fence around the tulips, and cross-park location. The speakers took the stage and after they were done the group started to march around the park. In the mean time a small group of Catholic Workers from the Dorothy Day House entered the park and as their form of expression is regularly to hold a stationary prayer vigil. Today's events prevented that technique, in that they were escorted into the closed part of the park surrounded by several officers, while the mounted police were brought into the park to restrain a very angry, screaming crowd, which seemed to have a problem with sharing the right of free speech.
The crowd was held back about 20 ft. from the signs while 3 peaceful protesters were ushered to safety across the barricade. Almost immediately across the tulip bed on the other sidewalk a single individual displayed a target on his back, he was being harassed by several Albanian protesters. The horse troops quickly exited, heading to the other side. After that my view was obscured by the rush of the now unrestrained Albanians, they rushed the snow fence cheering the crowd on the other side on, as the cheers changed to boos i figured the police had intervened and brought another peaceful protester to safety. The protest then resumed to normal as the people marched around the park with shouts of "Bomb NATO bomb", "arm the KLA" and other slogans aimed at intensifying the war in Serbia. God seemed to intervene on the scene as a brief but rather intense thunderstorm put an end to the days festivities.
Saturday started as another beautiful day. Fred and i walked from the office to the park making a point of walking by the hotels that NATO was using along the way. The appearances of the police at all the corners was a interesting addition to the walk. We chanted to stop NATO bombing and for a end to the violence in Serbia. Upon arriving at the park we received one of the warmest receptions i have ever received. i also noticed an increased presence of our local constabulary, complete with shields, gas masks and "in crowd" presence. Fred and i were given "target" t-shirts by some brothers in the crowd, which was possibly the largest demonstration to date since my arriving in the park.
By contrast of the previous day, this crowd was much more peaceful, but just as emotional and focused. Their signs carried messages of "stop the bombing", "stop NATO aggression" and other somewhat colorful remarks aimed towards the inept leadership that permeates our world. Also their were several religious leaders present, offering prayers and support to end the bombing. After the speakers and other events that were focused on the other side of the park were finished the crowd took to the street to walk around the block, surrounding the Hay-Adams hotel and moving back into the park. Soon the warlords started to arrive at the White House, each being greeted with a fanfare from whatever military band that was being used, for the dinner extravaganza being held inside. The crowd moved closer to the White House side of the park and renewed their chanting, they got really confused and upset when the Albanian delegation pulled into the mix of madness.
Finally about 8:00 the remaining protesters called it a day as many of them had busses to catch, back to Chicago and Detroit. i later learned that the chants from the crowd were picked up by the CNN broadcast covering the festivities inside.
What feels very strange to me, is the scarcity of people here, in the park, speaking out, or just being here to say NOT IN OUR NAME. The madness has to stop, or is it okay to commit genocide in one part of the world, and preach righteousness in our own back yard. To dine sumptuously in the splendor of the President's house, with an army of armed, battled prepared troops surrounding the perimeter, while your bombers drive hundreds of thousands into flights of hysteria, and punish many more civilians just for trying to make a home for themselves and their children. The environmental impact of these actions will be felt all over Europe and the unlucky countries downwind of the burning refineries, chemical plants, and who knows whatelse, will suffer health problems for many years to come.
The Lord left us to steward over his creation, all life is important to that equation. Seems to me that we should be appreciating that gift instead of systematically destroying it. Why are we so busy closing our eyes to solutions, while indulging in senseless carnage under the guise of some misguided mission of mercy? The lack of accountability and responsibility of our leadership is condemning the rest of us as accomplices in this atrocity. To say nothing or to support these reprehensible actions is the worst kind of arrogance. Denial of and blind obedience to a power that reduces life to a matter of profit, condemns our entire species to a fate reserved for the lesser species that have been assigned to non-existence. Wake-up America, give PEACE a chance, it might be the only chance we get. So get involved NOW, you can make a difference, your voice is important. Only when you stand against the darkness can your light truly be seen.