Friday, September 03, 2004

Chicago Tribune Goes to NY

Charlie Madigan the editor of the Sunday Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune had a blog during the Republican National Convention. He stopped by the Eyes Wide Open exhibit in Union Square on Wednesday and here is his report.

"September 1, 2004 2:25 PM CDT: An arresting moment. The weather broke overnight and so I headed off to Union Square today to see what was up after a night of listening to speeches at the Republican Convention and watching street protests. I found myself standing beside the boots representing Pfc. Joel K. Brattain, who was 21 and who came from California.

These substitute boots, and a couple of pictures, were right between the substitute boots of Lance Cpl. Brad S. Shuder and Pfc. Steven Acosta. There were almost 1,000 other pairs of military boots standing in silence in Union Square too, all of them reflecting the sadness of soldiers and Marines killed in Iraq.

The feeling was arresting. It stopped you right in place and forced you to look out over that field of black boots, marching to nowhere and to eternity at exactly the same time.

The headlines this morning talked about the arrests of some 1,000 protesters Tuesday as some events got out of hand and people, some of them who came here just to get arrested, found the New York City Police Department completely accommodating. I wondered what protest might look like in the midst of people who are pledged to non-violence, and how they felt about confrontation.

So I visited with the Quakers. Using boots was an idea born in Chicago's American Friends Service Committee office. Mike McConnell, the regional Friends director in Chicago, worked out the plan. donated the first batch of boots. The Quakers brought the boots here and lined them up, along with shoes representing more than 600 Iraqi civilian deaths. McConnell, who was at a Quaker conference in Seattle, told me by phone that the Chicago Friends wanted to find a symbolic way to show what the fatality numbers actually meant.

At 10:55 a.m., a collection of people from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows rolled a huge stone, like a headstone, into the square on a cart built to look like a coffin. It had been pulled all the way from Boston.

Put all of that together and no one really had to shout about anything. The Quakers stood quietly around the boots, answering questions and waiting to update a post that had flip numbers on it representing the number of American servicemen killed in action. The number was at 974 when I looked at it at about 10:30 a.m.

Elizabeth Enloe of the New York Friends was at the scene to talk about the display. My assumption was that the press kit she handed out would have all the easy answers. That's not what I wanted to ask. I wanted to know whether she felt that the media attention paid to arrests would overwhelm the message the Quakers were trying to send.

No, she said. Nonviolence carries with it a built-in credibility. The Quakers aim for a peaceful, respectful solemnity and they believe that is louder than any noise any one else can make. This display has been on tour since January, and it produces strong responses everywhere it goes.

Enloe said earlier in the day a veteran who was walking in Union Square asked if he could be the one to flip over the numbers counting American war dead. He made it to exactly one number, 974 she said, then he was overcome by emotion and, weeping, had to stop.

A man from Florida who had been a Boy Scout leader found the shoes representing two of his Scouts. A woman from Arizona found the shoes representing the first Native American woman killed in the war. Even as Enloe was speaking, there were more visitors, looking through the shoes, which are organized by state, for their friends, relatives, loved ones."

Be sure to visit his blog.


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