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Split This Rock Day 4: Peace March [Mar. 23rd, 2008|04:05 pm]
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After the reading, we assembled together for a silent march to Lafayette Park. A silent march struck me as another bit of irony (poets marching silently?) but the organizers pointed out that there is enough screaming in the world, and in DC, and perhaps we could be more powerful in silence.

Floppy saw that they were handing out signs that read "War is Not the Answer." He wanted one, but they were out, so I got him a bumper sticker, which was not exactly what he wanted, but he accepted it, being in the frame of mind to be peaceful. (There are fringe benefits to turning your five-year-old into a peace activist.) Eventually I did find him a sign, and he held it proudly while we waited. He got into a discussion with a tall and stately woman arrayed head to toe -- even her hair -- in various shades of purple about his sign. "Discussing it is the answer," he said, but she didn't quite understand him, so -- aspiring wordsmith that he is -- he announced firmly, and with more volume:

"War is not the answer. Talking it over is the answer!"

She suggested he might want this to be his poetic contribution to the events later, advice he took under serious consideration.

I carried him on my shoulders for the march, which threaded silent and essentially unnoticed through half a mile of downtown DC. Being Easter, the city seemed almost deserted. We pointed out the Magnolia trees blooming to one another. We whispered to each other about peace. People took lots of photos of Floppy:



(This one is taken by Jill Brazel, official event photog, and posted at splitthisrock.org)



(This one is another from Karren Alenier's blog.)

When we got to the park we had to wait while park police swept the stage with bomb-sniffing dogs. Sarah Browning greeted this with sarcasm -- we had a permit, we had an exhaustive list of other rules -- but we needed to be checked for bombs in this, the people's park.

Earlier this month my family tried to visit the U.S. Capitol, and discovered that to watch your lawmakers at work you now need a ticket issued from your congressperson's office, and of course there are no longer open public tours of the White House. Here we were confronted with yet another example of our administration's terrible paranoia.

I think these small losses of liberty are a much bigger deal than anyone seems to acknowledge, largely because of Svetlana Konopleva, a Soviet Byelorussian citizen who lived with me (both in the U.S. and in Minsk) in 1990, right before the fall of the Soviet Union. Svetlana, it must be said, was no would-be defector. She thought Americans were self-important and materialistic, and wasn't shy about letting me know it. But when she lived with me in the Twin Cities, we took her to see our state capitol, an imposing marble domed building designed by Cass Gilbert. This is what is looks like:




We took Sveta all over that building: sat in the galleries and watched legislators debate, attended a hearing about some issue I've totally forgotten, looked at the fine statues and the shiny marble reliefs and the golden quadriga on top. The state capitol of Minnesota was the only thing Sveta from USSR was impressed by during her visit here. And you want to know why?

Because, she told me, in Soviet Russia you couldn't go to see your lawmakers at work. She didn't even know where laws were made, exactly -- not in an impressive public building like that, she thought. Maybe in a private, discreet office building somewhere. She thought it was amazing, impressive, to be able to visit a grand public institution as a member of the populace, and keep an eye on your leaders. She thought that was the only part of America worth keeping, or copying, or exporting.

And now we've lost it.

But in Lafayette Park, the Speakers' Park -- but not the Capitol, not, of course the White House itself -- we were allowed to speak, so long as we had a permit to do so well in advance. So long as the gendarmes' dogs determined no one was planning on shooting off any bombs. So long as no one set a bag on the ground. So long as we adhered to a whole range of other rules I have even forgotten in all their minutiae.

Well, we might not live in a democracy, but speak we did, one at a time, a line (no more than 12 words each) at a time, we built a cento, a patchwork poem for peace. Floppy, in my arms to reach the mike,  bellowed his from the stage:

"War is not the answer! Talking it over is!"

to loud applause (the woman with the purple hair noted later he'd tightened his line even more fully than when they'd first discussed it; I'm glad he's got his editing skills down). (I also said a line which was anticlimactic immediately after his, and DH took one for the team by reciting a second line of Floppy's composition, since one line in the limelight was of course not enough for my dramatic son.)

Afterwards Floppy wanted to say goodbye to everyone, especially Naomi Shihab Nye, his special friend who was gracious about accommodating his worship of her. Susan Brennan gave us small slips of blue paper with famous poems for peace -- I ended up with Lao Tzu writing on non-interference.

Floppy wanted to hit up Nathaniel Siegel for stickers: Nathaniel had brought an enormous roll of what looked like colorful caution or police tape, but turned out to be adhesive backed tape that read "Peace and Love."



So we asked, and Nathaniel plastered us front and back with stickers, and gave Floppy a picture of the young Ghandi. We talked with strangers about where to catch the Metro, and I hugged or gave warm handshakes to all the new friends I could find -- Brennan, Karren Alenier, Siegel, even Naomi Shihab Nye and Coleman Barks.

We took the train home -- Peace and Love from head to toe -- and I noticed that so attired we were very visible, and also healing. The people on the trains -- all colors, all ages -- saw us and smiled. It might be a tired hippie phrase, but you could see the warmth radiating out around us, reflecting back at us. Everyone made eye contact. Like the people eating the Palestinian grandmother's cookies in the airport, no one was afraid anymore.

Speak Joy to Power.

Joy and Peace and Love.
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