We all have Human Rights

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December 10, 2006

I got into a sort of meditative state on my knees on the sidewalk in the orange jumpsuit with the black hood on.  The particular arrangement of Oh, Christmas Tree, repeated over and over, that Macy’s was piping out onto the crowds who looked at the windows and bustled along Broadway, somehow contributed. 

My fellow patriots and I were showing Macy’s holiday shoppers what the 14,000 persons detained in US concentration camps not only in Guantanamo but in other places around the world were doing on that day, International Human Rights Day.

As my legs grew numb, I thought about those people, who must be in dreadful pain and were not going to be able, as I was, to get up in a little while and go about my life.  The best of their life may just be kneeling for long periods hooded and shackled.  They suffer beatings and electric shock, simulated drowning, horrors I cannot even really imagine.  They are now “legally” held without recourse of any kind.  I felt connected to those human beings, at least some of whom we know have nothing to do with any attacks on the US or on anyone.  And even those who have perpetrated violence against others are still human beings. A sign of civilized behaviour is certainly how one treats every human being. 

The United States used to subscribe to human rights for all.  We used to aspire to being a beacon in the world for the respect of human rights.  We are now among the worst offenders in the world on this issue. 

Some people who passed by us cursed us.  “Burn in hell!”  I heard one man say.  Marcia remarked when I told her this that she certainly doesn’t want that man’s next life.  I do not want his current life.  I do not want to be filled with fear and rage and hatred.

But many people also blessed us.  “Bless you!”  “Thank you!”  “God bless you!”  were also called out to us. 

We were a group of men and women about equally mixed, African American, Asian, and Caucasian.  We ranged in age from teenagers through the seventies.  In our orange jumpsuits and hoods, we were, of course, indistinguishable.  I told George I would know myself in the photographs, but I don’t.  We all were there because we cannot stand by as our country founders deeper and deeper into this morass of evil, for I cannot call torture anything else. 

Eventually, I decided to stand.  I had been kneeling with my head toward the Macy’s building and my back toward Broadway.  I realized that the sign pinned to my back that said TORTURE would not be visible while I stood, so I turned around and found myself facing the NYPD.  They had been there all along, but I had not seen them. 

A huge percentage of the US population is against the Bush regime, the war, the torture, all of it.  That means that some percentage of the members of the NYPD is, too.  In previous actions and demonstrations I have participated in, I have sensed solidarity of many of them with us.  Still, they have to do their job.

I was wary when a police “honcho” with a lot of stripes and decorations arrived on the scene, but he just interacted with the other agents and left us alone. 

We were fortunate to have an official Legal Observer on the scene.  These wonderful patriots are lawyers, members of the National Lawyers Guild, who show up for protests wearing recognizable insignia.  They certainly help to keep the police aware of the rights of citizens to speak out against the government. 

Also helping us were the professional photographers on the scene chronicling the vivid juxtaposition of the holiday decorations at Macy’s and the prisoners. 

Not the least of the support for us came from the countless shoppers and tourists who whipped out their cameras and cell phones that can make video and photographs and recorded the event also. 

Our peaceful, still, quiet protest was not challenged by the police nor by Macy’s.  We stayed for about an hour.  Eventually, a police officer did speak to one of our number who was in civilian dress handing out flyers.  He suggested we might want to move on, so we did shortly.  We had decided not to engage in any kind of confrontation with the police or Macy’s officials, this time.

David tells me that, in fact, we had the right to stay there as long as we wanted to, that such actions are protected by the First Amendment.  Still, if the police arrest you, that must be proven in courts.  Cindy Sheehan and the others were convicted this week for “trespassing” when in fact they were within their rights to be on the sidewalk.  They were never on private property.  Worse, with the new Military Commissions Act, anyone deemed by the administration to be aiding the “enemy” (both what aid is and who the enemy is to be determined by the administration) have no rights, just like the people we were representing.  No protest of this administration such as ours has led to anyone being “detained” but such detention would now be legal.  Chilling thought. 

I agree with my fellow patriots who were there that it would be difficult for anyone who passed by to fail to be moved.  One young woman remarked “Intense” to her companion as she passed.  It was intense, a vivid intense image.  It was also intense for me.  It felt very powerful to assume that position of my own free will and to show the world that not everyone in this country is in favor of torture.  Among other things, I am glad to have made the statement we did to the numerous foreigner shoppers there, to prove to them that all Americans are not behind the egregious abuses of human rights of the Bush regime. 

For further account of this and other actions across the country click on the address below



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