Five years.

It continues.

March 19, 2006. Mill Creek Park at the entrance to the Plaza, Kansas City.

It appears that some people aren’t paying much attention anymore.

March 20, 2003

[We] left Warrensburg at 4:30 p.m. and made it to the J.C. Nichols fountain at 47th and Main in Kansas City by 5:30 p.m. The organizers had planned for some time to have a 6:00 p.m. protest on the Plaza if hostilities broke out. I had been ambivalent about attending given the ugly rhetoric which is now being directed at those who dissent by the purveyors of right wing talk radio, cable television, and “yellow journalism”.  We had to do something positive and affirming rather than sit at home watching the crap on television which passes for real journalism these days, so we were finally resolved to attend.  As we drove up to the fountain we saw that people were already on the picket line and the TV trucks and cameras were in abundance.  At its peak we had 400 to 500 people.

It was overcast, cold and windy – temperature in the 40s.  We took our place on the line. We had decided earlier to only bring our pacifist signs. “Peace on Earth”, “In the Name of God, Stop Killing, In the Name of God”, and my graphic peace sign – it’s getting tattered from so much use…

Somewhat subdued, we quietly spoke on the line.  My favorite new sign: “War is so 20th century”. The response from passing traffic was overwhelmingly positive – a lot of honking and peace signs.  One well pickled Republican matron rolled down her car window and asked, “Don’t you people know the war has already started?”  This kind of cluelessness shouldn’t surprise me anymore.  There were occasional pro-war shouts and one “bird”, though I was surprised that they were not as ugly and aggressive as they were last Sunday – I suppose they’re sated because they are getting their crappy little war.

We stood next to a veteran (there were many there tonight).  We were joined by an old friend and several colleagues.  After a while the organizers called us to the fountain.  Some folk singers sang a witty and satirical “12 days of war” song.  We had brought candles (and plastic cups as wind shields), so we lit them and stood listening to the music.  The singers had us all join in singing “Peace, Shalom, Salaam”.  There were several speakers.  In the most peaceful moment of the day for me, as we stood there with our candles, we were barely aware that a photographer from the Kansas City Star took our pictures (when he finished he asked for our names and where we were from, writing the information down).  After the announcements were finished, the host marched through the Plaza shopping district.

The marchers stayed on the sidewalk, chanting in a call and response “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like” and “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”  As we marched into the Plaza we passed the glassed in front of one of those upscale dining establishments.  Lo and behold, two older women were standing watching us and flashed us peace signs!  We looped back around and passed several clothing establishments.  Some people shopping in the stores or watching us from the doorways flashed peace signs.

After we made it back to the fountain we walked to our car for the hour long drive home.

March 20, 2004

The war was “officially” started a year ago today.

We drove to Kansas City to attend the protest at 47th and Main in Mill Creek Park (near the J.C. Nichols fountain and the entrance to the Plaza). We had good weather and good attendance. I estimate the size of the crowd to be between 300 and 500.

We stood on the picket line on the north side of 47th Street with our signs. I alternated “Faux News Channel, fascist groupies”, “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease”, and “somewhere in Texas there’s a village missing an idiot” signs. I had the opportunity to flip over the “one finger for ignorance, two fingers for peace” sign for the benefit of a few individuals in some passing vehicles who were verbally deficient in expressing themselves.

One friend held a “Mourning in America, 577 killed, 3300 wounded” sign.

Someone passed out small American flags to everyone on the line.

The crowd was a decent mix, but I think most would be surprised by the number of middle aged and older individuals. There are always a number of veterans in attendance. I noted what appeared to be a handful of anarchists dressed in black, wearing black bandanas over their faces.

The Kansas City Police Department had five officers conducting surveillance from the parking garage at the southeast corner of the intersection. We all occasionally waved and photographed them photographing us.

One individual was on stilts and dressed as Uncle Sam, carrying a sign which stated, “I am ashamed.”

After all of this time I wonder if any of them is capable of coming up with something original. After the first few weeks and after almost a year and a half at over 200 vigils, marches, and protests I haven’t witnessed any of them being able to come up with anything new. Their cognitive dissonance is caught up in an infinite feedback loop.

We had an overwhelming number of supporting waves, honking horns, peace signs, thumbs up, and smiles. People were amused by the “Mad Cowboy” sign. We stand out there to let them know they are not alone. There are also the stone faced looks, the shaking heads, the occasional thumbs down, and of course, the single finger salute. Our favorite retort – “Look, they’re showing us their IQ!” got everyone on the line laughing.

One angry individual yelled, “Support our troops. Support our troops.” People on the line responded with shouts about inadequate supplies of body armor and a Guard unit having to improvise steel plates for unarmored vehicles. Someone else yelled, “Like when the administration cuts veterans benefits.”

Everyone on the line was aggressive in responding to challengers. It sometimes seems to shock them, as if they expected us to start crying or cower in the face of their bullying and brilliant, to them, verbal repartee.

A few passersby challenge us from their vehicles, but the traffic noise sometimes makes it hard to hear what they’re saying. We’ve taken to laughing at them, then cupping our hands over our ears and mouthing the words, “I can’t hear you.” It drives some of them to near apoplexy. One individual, driving east out of the Plaza, rolled down his windows and started yelling at us. I yelled, “What?” and then, as he drove past the picket line, everyone else loudly took up the question as his vehicle approached them. This continued for 50 yards. His head looked about ready to explode.

I turned to the nice older lady standing next to me and said, “We’re not going to take their crap anymore.” She laughed and nodded in agreement.

We were on the line from around 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. We saw a number of media still photographers, but I didn’t see any television cameras. The events were scheduled until 6:00 p.m., so they might have arrived later.

The Kansas City Star did its usual “thorough” reporting on peace events in the area.

We walked through the crowd and through the park, turned to look at the crowd and saw how large it was, and then walked to our car for the hour long drive home.

March 20, 2005

For the first time in nine months I came back to the same protest area in the park at 47th and Main in Kansas City. This place has become all too familiar. Two years ago today we stood on the north side of 47th street.

So, we find ourselves in the same place two years later. The picket line on the north side of 47th street stretched from Main to
Broadway, with the line curving around the corners of the north-south streets. It was bright and sunny, though a little on the cool side. With this kind of weather there’s a lot of traffic heading west into the Plaza shopping district.

Not much has changed in these two years, other than the increasing amount of carnage. That, and we have so much more experience at this now.

We started on the picket line a little bit before 4:00 p.m. We stayed on the line until about 5:30 p.m. The vast majority of passersby were supportive – with horn honking, peace signs and thumbs up. At first there was none of the overt hostility we had experienced in the past. Except for the stone faces.

This usually happens when they get trapped by the traffic light as they head west into the Plaza. They want us to avert our gaze – we don’t. There’s usually not much chatter coming from the picket line. We quietly converse and watch the passing traffic, sometime reacting with a peace sign in return for a honk or friendly wave. For those with stone faces, though, their hatred is palpable – this usually from someone driving a pristine upscale vehicle. We’re here and they don’t like it, but many seem to fear any reaction an overt display of hostility or shouting might provoke from the large picket line – that reminder of the great unwashed. Maybe they’re afraid we’ll try to squeegee their windshield and then ask for a handout.

Still, others stare at us. With no expression. It becomes a game. Who’ll avert their gaze before the light changes? We always win. If they look at us they have to read our signs. That would be too troubling.

At its peak we had over 100 people on the picket line with another 200 to 400 in the park listening to speakers or music. There was a podium and sound system where volunteers read the names of the dead. That sound washing over us in contest with the traffic noise and the honking horns. The American names are read with their rank. The Iraqi names have none.

The NBC and Fox affiliates had camera crews in attendance. The NBC crew crossed to the south side of 47th to film the picket line. I’m holding my “Faux News Channel, fascist groupies” sign.

Towards the end of our time on the line we encountered a few more derisive shouts and one poor soul who kept his middle finger extended for the entire line as he slowly trolled eastward out of the Plaza accompanied by a wave of mocking laughter from those of us on the pickets.  We win when they react. We win when they don’t react. We win by being here. And they all know it.  

One individual rolled down his car windows and yelled “Why don’t you enlist and go defend freedom?” Someone on the line called back, “You mean like dubya? He didn’t even show up.” The car continued down the line, with the driver leaning toward the passenger window yelling at other pickets. The retired priest (an old friend from my first protest on the Plaza) standing next to me shakes his head. He’s a veteran.

As we left the event, walking back to our vehicle I saw a teenager or twenty-something holding up a large sign next to the small main stage – “This Group Hates Our Country” – he was surrounded by a dozen anti-war activists who were talking to him. I didn’t bring any DD-4s  today. One would have come in handy.

March 19, 2006

Three years ago as the war started we attended a vigil in the park at 47th and Main in Kansas City. And marched on the Plaza. Two years ago I stood in the same place. One year ago I stood in the same place. Today I stood in the same place.

We left Warrensburg at 1:15 p.m. after picking up three students who wanted to attend the vigil. We arrived around 2:30 and parked in a garage at the west end of the Plaza, then walked to the park. As we approached we could see a sea of white sheets of paper floating on lines in the wind, some with photos, all with names, representing all of the casualties of this war, American and Iraqi. It took our breath away.

We took up places on the picket line. I started out holding my “…one nation, under surveillance” sign. I distributed all of my signs to others, including “I see their ‘justice’, I see their will of ‘god’, I see their ‘mercy’, it is a firing squad” to a young girl who was all too happy to hold it after an older woman rejected that one in favor of a Ghandi quote.

The media showed up – most of the Kansas City affiliates (NBC, ABC and Fox) sent out remote trucks and crews. As the ABC truck came by I held up my “Faux News Channel, fascist groupies” – the reporter and driver smiled, then laughed. A little while later the Fox remote truck headed west down the line on 47th street. People further up the line called out to me to pull up my sign. As luck would have it the Fox truck got stopped in traffic about ten feet from me. I held up my sign so that they could read it. Others on the picket line nearer to them waved their hands in front of the truck and pointed animatedly toward me and my sign. The reporter in the front seat smiled wanly, almost as if embarrassed as the picket line laughed at them. The driver was made of sterner stuff – he allowed no expression to cross his face.

The response was overwhelming. Most passing drivers honked horns and gave us a thumbs up or peace signs. The line was so crowded, at times we were three deep on 47th street, that I spent more time watching and listening to the crowd then I did observing the reactions of passersby. Early on one individual yelled at our students, one who was holding my “Stop Mad Cowboy Disease” sign, from a passing car – “You’re all a bunch of fucking idiots.” I walked up to their place on the line to congratulate them on their first troglodyte.

A choir of about a dozen individuals took a spot behind us and serenaded the picket line with satirical lyrics about Halliburton, war profiteering and George W. Bush. They were quite good.

The organizers planned to read the names of the dead and then hold a prayer service. I spent almost all of my time on the picket line, so I didn’t hear most of the speakers. The weather was overcast, windy and cold. I was thankful it didn’t rain. I estimate the crowd to be close to a thousand. It was hard to tell.

A reporter from the NBC affiliate interviewed a pre-teen child while the cameraman filmed her. The reporter turned to me while I was holding my “Faux News Channel, fascist groupies” sign – I told her, “Use it to bust your competition’s chops.” She smiled while the cameraman filmed me holding the sign.

Toward the end of our participation I walked around the park to take photos of the assembled crowd and the assembled television remote trucks.  At one point I walked up the hill to get a better view of the crowd.  My old friend, the retired Catholic priest from my first Plaza protest in November 2002, walked past me.  We recognized and greeted each other.  He had told me that he tried looking for me on the picket line, but couldn’t find me in the crowd.

At about 5:00 p.m. we left the vigil to eat dinner at an establishment on the Plaza. As we crossed Broadway, a lone dubya supporter with a “We support President Bush and our troops” sign was being interviewed by one of the television reporters. There were a few anti-war demonstrators around him. Any guesses about the “balanced” reporting which will take place on the late news?

….After dinner we walked back to our car for the long drive home. As we passed the park we saw that it was now empty.

We talked during the drive home. For our students who participated in this their first protest event the experience was an eye opener. They commented on the general lack of diversity in the crowd. For the most part those who attended were middle aged and older. Our students were amazed at the number of “older” people who approached to thank them for attending.

3,987 and 29,314 in 1,823 days (as of this posting).