October 7, 2002

Report from Central Park

I don't know how many people were there. I don't know how to estimate crowd numbers and I never trust the corporate media reports on such things, but the crowd stretched as far as you could see at the East Meadow of Central Park near 97th Street and Fifth Avenue. And the feeling was tremendous. There was a sense of jubilation that so many people had come out together to speak out against the war.

The day was perfect. It was warm, sunny. The city never looked better. The human heart of the city was vibrant as people from all sides gathered at Central Park. It was uplifting and hopeful to see so many people from children to very old people, of all colors and nationalities coming together to try to stop the further killing of Iraqi people.

The rally was organized by Not In Our Name. There was a stage set up with some musical performers and a string of speakers who took only about a minute each to voice their feelings about the war.

The actor Gabriel Byrne was one of the first speakers. He spoke out angrily and eloquently against Bush's war. "He's not even an elected leader. Why is this guy speaking for us who lied his way into power?" Byrne said.

"If they believe violence is going to lead to peace, they don't understand history," he said.

A clergyman said, "I'm going to tell you why we are resisting this war. It's because of our refusal to surrender our moral imagination, to give in to the culture of death. We reject the idea that the lives of Iraqi children are worth any less than American children.

"We are very near to a spiritual and moral breakdown in this country," he said. "There is poison in our culture. A lot of it comes from our so-called leaders..."

A Black Muslim said, "If he were alive today, which side do you think Moses would be on, the side of the people or the side of the big corporations? If Jesus were alive, which side do you think he would be on, the side of the people or the side of the big corporations? If Muhammad were alive today, which side do you think he would be on, the side of the people or the side of the big corporations?" The crowed shouted back "The people!" in each case. "Then that's the side we have to be on. Be strong in your faith. Be not deceived by the lies..."

Susan Sarandon said, "I am so happy to be here, to see you all here. I was almost convinced by the mainstream media that I was going out of my mind, that no one cares about this war. George Bush makes it all sound very simple: 'You are either with us or against us.' I don't know who 'us' is, but if George Bush were here today I'd like him to see, this is what democracy looks like! This is what an intelligent citizenry does! We question! We demand answers! We will not give our sons and daughters for a war for oil! We can imagine the people whose faces we will never see whose lives will be destroyed by this war. We do want to live in a world where countries respect each others wishes, and after this war there will be no interntional law, only the rule of the stronger. Do we want to be the next Rome?

"Look around you," she said. "Look at yourselves, take pictures, because when you read about it tomorrow it won't look like this."

Actor Tim Robbins also spoke. He said, "I don't care much for any kind of fundamentalism. Any religion that turns to violence loses me. And what is our fundamentalism? Our fundamentalism is business. The idea that profits are more important than people's lives. The unfettered spread of our business interests throughout the world.

"We resist profit at the cost of human life," Robbins said. "This war is being used to distract us from Enron and Halliburton, scandals that connect this administration with what is wrong with the American economy."

Some of the most eloquent and inspiring speakers were high school kids from Stuyvesant High School in New York. They lined up on the stage at one point and two of them spoke to the crowd. It was amazing. They had the brightness and energy of youth, the sense of great possibility. They looked much like the kids you see on TV, but with a great difference. You will never see kids like these on network TV because these kids were politically conscious, aware of what is going on, of how their world is being hijacked and desecrated by a bunch of oil mobsters, and they are angry and determined not to let it happen.

"We are taking this pledge [the Not In Our Name Pledge] because this is our world," said one high school girl. "We will be here long after George Bush and his crowd are gone."

The sight of those young people, so self-assured, so dedicated, intelligent, aware and articulate, was one of the most hopeful signs I have seen in a world that has grown more and more dismal in the last few years. It was one more aspect of the world that the corporate media does not want you to know exists. But out there on the street today you could see it for yourself and feel it in your flesh and bones, the possibility that, as they say, "another world is possible."

--David Cogswell

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