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Wednesday, March 5, 2003

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An e-mail message today from the director of the Unitarian Universalist Association's Washington Office for Advocacy reported the following:

At 8:45 AM, I (Meg Riley) went to the Code Pink office, a tiny enclave within the National Organization for Women's hq, and picked up pink leaflets, pink peace buttons, pink baseball hats, pink berets, pink banners, a few pink fleece jackets, and a pink cellphone to take to the White House. There was only one pink feather boa, which I greedily snatched up and wrapped around my neck immediately. I wheeled all of this pinkness in a little pushcart the few blocks to the White House, where I had been instructed we could stand right outside the gate. As I arrived, Robin Hoecker strode up in a red coat, which looked dazzling when she topped it quickly with a pink beret. I opened the vigil with a moment of silent reflection, taking time to look carefully at the White House as a symbol of our nation's power and our nation's vision. The police were friendly and interested. One of them, after asking us repeatedly who paid us to stand there, eventually believed that we were not part of a conspiracy and muttered, "Well, I'll have to give you this, you're dedicated!"

Soon, the Rev. Roberta Finkelstein arrived from the Sterling, Virginia church. Roberta came even while on sabbatical, I guess realizing that you can't take a sabbatical from war. As women began to gather, primarily UU women, but a few also from Luther Place, an activist Lutheran congregation in Washington, Roberta shared a reading she had written for the occasion. She shared that, in her past life as a nurse midwife, "Code Pink" was what you called out when you needed the newborn resuscitation team..."Code Pink" meant, "Help us save the life of this child!" It seemed highly appropriate for our vigil

The Revs. Ginger Luke and Lynn Strauss then strode in from the River Road UU Church in Bethesda, Maryland with parishioners. Ginger invited us to sing the old John Lennon refrain, "All we are saying, is give peace a chance," which I remembered from my very earliest peace vigils during the Vietnam War, some 35 years ago. As we were singing, and standing quietly, it became apparent something unusual was beginning to happen. Along with the women in pink who were with us, suddenly there was a handful of teenagers, dressed very oddly in togas and sandals (and goosebumps!). It turned out that they were from the Duke Ellington High School for Performing Arts, and that there was to be a press conference in which they would perform five minutes from "Lysistrata," that old anti-war play from ancient Greece, which was performed in thousands of venues yesterday. TV cameras and print reporters began swarming the place, and suddenly a cadre of Code Pink women bearing signs that said, "Women say yes to men who say no to war" and "No peace, no &*(#$" began to show up. Lynn Strauss muttered to me, "I'm not sure how comfortable I am being mixed up with this message!" and so many of us opted not to jump behind the cameras, but it was great fun to see the high schoolers perform. While such a large group was gathered, I went to a nearby cafe, eat soup and thaw out with Kathy Sreedhar, who directs the UUA's Holdeen India Programs. Kathy had come to the vigil hoping to lead us in a rousing chorus of "We Shall Overcome" in Hindi, but unfortunately she was overcome by performing teenagers! Rev. Lynn Strauss also was unable to share her offering with the crowd due to unforeseen drama performances.

There's more, but the key comment is Lynn Strauss's: "I'm not sure how comfortable I am being mixed up with this message!" It's time to read Rosemary Bray McNatt's UU World review of Paul Osterman's Gathering Power and Michael Gecan's Going Public, where we find these crucial paragraphs:

Gecan is most provocative in defining his life's work in opposition to what passes for grassroots activism these days. He describes once seeing hundreds of police officers preparing for a demonstration; intrigued, he returned to the scene at lunchtime. "Five people stood. . . . Two had splashed black paint on their clothing and smeared black paint on their faces. They writhed on the sidewalk while a graying demonstrator pounded a drum and a young woman harangued the passing crowd. . . . What I was observing was not an action at all, but a reenactment . . . more theatrical than political . . . not just scripted, but plagiarized. . . . They were political idolaters."

He contrasts this political theater with the "constructive and creative action" of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. According to Gecan, Parks "studied the forgotten phonics and lost language of public action. She mastered this vocabulary, with depth and discipline, then 'spoke' to her fellow leaders and followers. . . . She demonstrated once again that an ordinary American could learn about action, could lead the action, and then could transmit the lessons and limitations of that action to others."

I'd give up street theater politics for Lent if I hadn't already done so.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 5 March 2003 at 12:05 PM

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Next: The case for a different war.

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