Report on "Stand Against Torture Sunday", Dec. 23rd

It was a powerful scene, provoking many to think about the issue of torture and what is being done in our name, some for the first time, drawing expressions of sympathy and support from many, and a violent/vicious response from some hard-core, torture-hardened, reactionaries.
Despite a drizzle and forecasts of cold, heavy rain, all together, 40 people turned out at one point or another throughout the afternoon – activists and supporters from World Can’t Wait, A.R.T. (Activist Response Team), Catholic Worker and Witness against Torture. A group of youth who had planned an action against the war in Iraq themselves in the same area later that day, joined us and we “fused” our two plans into one, first in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and then going around Rockefeller Center and in front of its world famous annual Christmas tree.
Many held printed signs: “NO TORTURE – We Won’t Live in a Torture State – Impeach/Drive Out the Bush Regime”, along with “Waterboarding is Torture – Torture is a Crime Against Humanity”, while others knelt in orange jumpsuits and chains. There was a giant banner “Lies + Torture” that had previously been hung at an action in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. An agitator brought out the basic message: “Today, this government is torturing people in Iraq and Guantanemo, Cuba in our name. Torture is wrong, it’s a crime against humanity, it’s criminal, and it must be stopped. The criminals in the White House need to be impeached for their crimes and driven out.”
A number of people took orange ribbons or got “impeach the war criminals” buttons. A woman who came by with her children was heard telling them when she first spotted us, “listen to them – we are going to learn something important here today”.

The response of reactionaries was striking. None denied that torture was being done, and instead were brazenly upholding it. Several times they jumped out of the crowd and hit the heads of people kneeling in jump suits and hoods. Twice they started to attack our speakers. It was a scene right out of “Redacted”. Their wives and families seemed ashamed/horrified by their actions and would try to pull them away.

At 4:00 PM we switched, with a smaller number of us heading swiftly through Rockefeller Center and in front of the Christmas tree, led by the youth with a boom box playing the John Lennon song, “The War is Over – Merry Christmas” and along with our anti-torture signs, two hand-made displays: “This is a Christmas to Remember” and giving the number of Iraqis and Americans who have died in the war. It was a memorable scene, and we got an extremely favorable response from the crowds coming out to see the tree. All sorts of media photographers appeared, snapping lots of photos.

It is hard to estimate precisely, but several thousand altogether saw our actions and some were deeply affected by it.

No comments: