For the first time in nine months I came back to the same protest area in the park at 47th and Main in Kansas City. This place has become all too familiar. Two years ago today we stood on the north side of 47th street. Back then I wrote:
[We] left Warrensburg at 4:30 p.m. and made it to the J.C. Nichols fountain at 47th and Main in Kansas City by 5:30 p.m. The organizers had planned for some time to have a 6:00 p.m. protest on the Plaza if hostilities broke out. I had been ambivalent about attending given the ugly rhetoric which is now being directed at those who dissent by the purveyors of right wing talk radio, cable television, and “yellow journalism”. We had to do something positive and affirming rather than sit at home watching the crap on television which passes for real journalism these days, so we were finally resolved to attend. As we drove up to the fountain we saw that people were already on the picket line and the TV trucks and cameras were in abundance. At its peak we had 400 to 500 people.
It was overcast, cold and windy – temperature in the 40s. We took our place on the line. We had decided earlier to only bring our pacifist signs. “Peace on Earth”, “In the Name of God, Stop Killing, In the Name of God”, and my graphic peace sign – it’s getting tattered from so much use…
Somewhat subdued, we quietly spoke on the line. My favorite new sign: “War is so 20th century”. The response from passing traffic was overwhelmingly positive – a lot of honking and peace signs. One well pickled…matron rolled down her car window and asked, “Don’t you people know the war has already started?” This kind of cluelessness shouldn’t surprise me anymore. There were occasional pro-war shouts and one “bird”, though I was surprised that they were not as ugly and aggressive as they were last Sunday – I suppose they’re sated because they are getting their crappy little war.
We stood next to a veteran (there were many there tonight). We were joined by an old friend and several colleagues. After a while the organizers called us to the fountain. Some folk singers sang a witty and satirical “12 days of war” song. We had brought candles (and plastic cups as wind shields), so we lit them and stood listening to the music. The singers had us all join in singing “Peace, Shalom, Salaam”. There were several speakers. In the most peaceful moment of the day for me, as we stood there with our candles, we were barely aware that a photographer from the Kansas City Star took our pictures (when he finished he asked for our names and where we were from, writing the information down). [They never used the photo.] After the announcements were finished, the host marched through the Plaza shopping district.
The marchers stayed on the sidewalk, chanting in a call and response “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like” and “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!” As we marched into the Plaza we passed the glassed in front of one of those upscale dining establishments. Lo and behold, two older women were standing watching us and flashed us peace signs! We looped back around and passed several clothing establishments. Some people shopping in the stores or watching us from the doorways flashed peace signs.
After we made it back to the fountain we walked to our car for the hour long drive home.
So, we find ourselves in the same place two years later. The picket line on the north side of 47th street stretched from Main to Broadway, with the line curving around the corners of the north-south streets. It was bright and sunny, though a little on the cool side. With this kind of weather there’s a lot of traffic heading west into the Plaza shopping district.
Not much has changed in these two years, other than the increasing amount of carnage. That, and we have so much more experience at this now.
We started on the picket line a little bit before 4:00 p.m. We stayed on the line until about 5:30 p.m. The vast majority of passersby were supportive – with horn honking, peace signs and thumbs up. At first there was none of the overt hostility we had experienced in the past. Except for the stone faces.
This usually happens when they get trapped by the traffic light as they head west into the Plaza. They want us to avert our gaze – we don’t. There’s usually not much chatter coming from the picket line. We quietly converse and watch the passing traffic, sometime reacting with a peace sign in return for a honk or friendly wave. For those with stone faces, though, their hatred is palpable – this usually from someone driving a pristine upscale vehicle. We’re here and they don’t like it, but many seem to fear any reaction an overt display of hostility or shouting might provoke from the large picket line – that reminder of the great unwashed. Maybe they’re afraid we’ll try to squeegee their windshield and then ask for a handout.
Still, others stare at us. With no expression. It becomes a game. Who’ll avert their gaze before the light changes? We always win. If they look at us they have to read our signs. That would be too troubling.
At its peak we had over 100 people on the picket line with another 200 to 400 in the park listening to speakers or music. There was a podium and sound system where volunteers read the names of the dead. That sound washing over us in contest with the traffic noise and the honking horns. The American names are read with their rank. The Iraqi names have none.
The NBC and Fox affiliates had camera crews in attendance. The NBC crew crossed to the south side of 47th to film the picket line. The seem to be focusing on me – I’m holding my “Faux News Channel, fascist groupies” sign.
Towards the end of our time on the line we encountered a few more derisive shouts and one poor soul who kept his middle finger extended for the entire line as he slowly trolled eastward out of the Plaza accompanied by a wave of mocking laughter from those of us on the pickets. We win when they react. We win when they don’t react. We win by being here. And they all know it.
One individual rolled down his car windows and yelled “Why don’t you enlist and go defend freedom?” Someone on the line called back, “You mean like dubya? He didn’t even show up.” The car continued down the line, with the driver leaning toward the passenger window yelling at other pickets. The retired priest standing next to me shakes his head. He’s a veteran.
As we left the event, walking back to our vehicle I saw a teenager or twenty-something holding up a large sign next to the small main stage – “This Group Hates Our Country” – he was surrounded by a dozen anti-war activists who were talking to him. I didn’t bring any DD-4s today. One would have come in handy.