Friday, July 30, 2004

More from Copley Square

A woman knelt for about ten minutes in front of the pile of 1,000 shoes representing the over 16,000 Iraqi victims of the war. Then she sat down, took off her shoes and placed them on the pile. As she walked away barefoot, an AFSC staff member asked her what she was doing.

She said that a friend of hers had just told her about a young Iraqi boy who had died recently because he could not obtain insulin. She placed the shoes to remember him.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Copley Square Boston

The response to AFSC’s Eyes Wide Open exhibit here in the Boston area during the Democratic convention has been far beyond our expectations. People – including convention delegates - have flocked to it, grieving at the losses of Iraqi civilians and the now more than 900 U.S. troops cruelly sacrificed there. The media, including national networks like ABC, newspapers from USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, international press from Japan to Cuba, and dozens of independent documentary film makers have given us coverage and filmed and reported on the exhibit.

Last night’s candle light rally at Copley Square, with Eyes Wide Open and September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrow’s monument to the unknown civilian victims of war was stirring, sober, and very successful. Speakers included members of Military Families Speak Out, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Sept. 11 Families, Agneta Norberg from the Swedish Peace Council, City Councilman Chuck Turner, Phyllis Bennis and I spoke. Again, the press was excellent.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Boston Common

Eyes Wide Open had a premiere location on Boston Common and journalists from around the word, in town for the Democratic National Convention, swarmed the area. They took photos and interviewed visitors.

The Cambridge AFSC office took out an ad in the Metra newspaper for commuters entitled "Stop the War – Fund the Dream." On one side was the picture of the combat boots on the lawn outside the Capitol in Washington D.C. On the other side of the page was a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. A nation cannot spend $1.1 billion a day for the military and an additional $5 billion a month for the war in Iraq and still fund college scholarships, healthcare, job training, fire departments and other basic necessities of its citizens.

Friday, July 23, 2004

First Day in Boston

The voice on the cell phone kept saying, "Who did all of this? Who did all of this?" The voice was of an AFSC Boston staff person who has known since January who created Eyes Wide Open. What she was expressing was the usual added excitement of seeing the exhibition in person. You can read about it, see photos of it, but once you stand amid the boots and read the names of the Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. bombings, it takes on a whole new depth.

Seeing the names of children 7 or 8 or 9 years old killed by Cruise missles or cluster bombs, reading the ages of the U.S. soldiers on the tags of the boots, brings the whole cost of war into your mind and heart in a way that surprises and makes you want to call someone to share your experience.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Hartford Silence

In Hartford, CT yesterday the combat boots and wall display happened to be next to where a weekly vigil has been going on against the war for months. The vigilers carried signs. A reporter asked about the coincidence and one of the vigilers said that while we have the signs, Eyes Wide Open has the silence.

See the news article.

Friday, July 16, 2004

On to Cape Cod

One comment that keeps being repeated in every location: visitors remark with sadness how young the soldiers are who have died. And at every stop families who have had loved ones die visit and place mementoes by the boots bearing the name of their soldier. Colored photos, ribbons, roses, letters are all being left by the boots. It has become a living memorial and tribute to those who have fallen.

Throughout Massachusetts organizers have placed in the front row the names of Massachusetts soldiers. Boots tagged for John James Van Gyzen, 20, of Taunton were decorated with a white rose and his photo tied on with red, white and blue striped ribbon.

His family placed them there while the exhibit was in Taunton this week, shortly after they buried him. The display of combat boots was on one side of town, while his funeral took place on the other. The rose had barely begun to wilt by the time it reached Cape Cod. See the news article.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Reflections from Philadelphia Press Conference

My name is Michael McConnell, Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee from Chicago. On behalf of AFSC and the military families present today, I welcome you to this memorial to the Iraq War dead, the deadliest war for the United States since Vietnam.

When we began this memorial in Chicago in January there were 504 U.S. soldiers who had been killed. Five months later 860 are dead.

We are here today to remember those 860 U.S. soldiers who have given, what Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg called "the last full measure of devotion." This is a tremendous loss as it took this nation over four years in Vietnam before reaching that level of deaths. 860 pairs of empty combat boots, each tagged with the name of a fallen soldier, represents the tragic and unnecessary loss that this nation has suffered in Iraq.

We also remember the Iraqi civilians killed in the war, represented by this 24-foot long wall inscribed with the names or incidents of death of nearly 10,000 people and the 1,000 pairs of shoes representing 1/16th of their loss. Their ages range from an unnamed baby in the womb to Mulkiyya Jabir, 87 years old. Those deaths are over three times the loss of this nation on September 11, 2001, in a country one twelfth the size of the U.S.

We publicly display their names because the more the American people see the Iraqis as individuals, the harder it will be to continue to kill them.

The granite and marble war memorials of this nation honor the dead decades after the war has ended. In contrast this is a living witness that commemorates each death as it happens, memorializing a war while we still have a chance to stop it.

The thousands of deaths represented here today is too high a price to pay for an illegal and unnecessary war.

As we place the name, rank, age and home state of the fallen soldiers on these boots, they become like sacred objects. Each pair reminds us never to allow the casualty count to be a mere statistic, but rather to remember each death as a tragedy.

This pair has no tag. [Holds up pair of boots] Whose name will we have to put on this pair tomorrow? Whose family will be swamped in grief tomorrow? When will this carnage end?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Tears of Sadness and Anger in Westerly, Rhode Island

A veteran was not sure that he wanted to view the exhibit.

While other visitors walked among the boots, checking names and sometimes stopping to put a little American flag or flower in a boot, the veteran stood at the display's edge.

Providence Journal columnist Dave McCarthy writes that "He was afraid he would break down if he walked among the boots. 'I just find it so heartbreaking. They are all my brothers ... It's so sad. They had wives and mothers, and sisters and brothers, and aunts and uncles. Not one of them wanted to die.' "

McCarthy goes on: "His sadness was mixed with anger, however. He paused for a second, then added, choking with grief, 'We never learn...' His voice trailed off to a whisper: 'Anyone one of these could be my son or anyone else's son.' "

Monday, July 12, 2004

Vietnam Parallels

Today is the eleventh day after the U.S. turned over "limited sovereignty" to the Iraqis. Thirty-five U.S. soldiers have been killed. That averages over three per day. Since the war began, including the invasion and the deadliest month of April 2004, the average has been just under two per day. The death toll should remind us all that the military occupation still continues.

Meanwhile controversy rages in Taunton, MA as the city council debates tomorrow night whether to allow the Eyes Wide Open Exhibition to be displayed on Church Green, a space set aside to honor Vietnam veterans. See the news article. Eyes Wide Open is one hundred percent supportive of the U.S. troops while condemning one hundred percent the war they have been forced to fight . Many of the families and soldiers that I have talked with joined the national guard to pay for college or make extra money for their families. They were prepared to serve their country in real national emergencies not manufactured ones.

The parallels to Vietnam are becoming more apparent everyday. We have witnessed the hyperbole that the U.S. government used to justify the Iraq war, suggesting that the "smoking gun will be the mushroom cloud." Back in the 1960s government officials urged the American people to stop the communists in Vietnam before they had to be stopped at the Golden Gate bridge. Or as Secretary of State Dean Rusk said in June of 1965, the collapse of Vietnam would lead to "our ruin and almost certainly to a catastrophic war."

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Eyes Wide Open Rolls into Charleston, WV

7-8,000 people viewed the 865 combat boots and wall of names of 10,000 Iraqi civilians killed in Iraq at the Charleston Civic Center. The Church of the Brethren was holding its annual meeting there and held a candlelight vigil, interspersing candles among the boots.

Three TV stations and all of the newspapers covered the event. A pastor from Puerto Rico invited us to bring the exhibit there.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Eyes Wide Open Front Page News in Philadelphia Inquirer

Eyes Wide Open opened yesterday in Philadelphia on Independence Mall — the boots, the wall and one thousand pairs of shoes (representing 1/10 of the Iraqi civilian victims) were on the lawn. The indoor educational portion was on the second floor of the Visitor’s Center.

Thousands of people have and will go through the exhibit, which will close tomorrow at 4PM.

It was front page of the Inquirer — above the fold, three color photos.

It is running every hour as a news story on the much listed to news radio station and it appeared on several TV stations. We also had a two-page article in the big free Philadelphia Weekly. AP Photo was there as well. And the local NPR ran a 3-minute story Friday morning.

By all estimation it was a great success and reached so many people from all over the country traveling to Philadelphia for July 4th celebrations.