Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Die-In -- Friday, October 19

Police officer. Laborer. Shiite cleric. Sunni cleric. 8-year old. Doctor. Student. Sunni tribal leader. Shiite tribal leader. Provincial governor. 12-year old. Professor. Blacksmith. Journalist. Taxi driver. 3-year old.

Just a representation of the 96 Iraqi civilians killed each day in Iraq, according to U.N. estimates. In 2006 a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health report calculated nearly 655,000 deaths since the war began in 2003. That total is believed to be about one million deaths today.

To recognize these deaths that the U.S. military refuses to count, members of the Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents of War (KNOW) held its first Die-In in Bronson Park. Leaders read the names and occupations of Iraqis followed by a single drum beat for each person.

Modeled after the American Friends Service Committee of Chicago die-ins, KNOW attracted about 100 people to this Friday-after-work demonstration of protest against the war. It was four years and seven months to the day since the start of the war.

“We chose the downtown’s Bronson Park for the Die-in because of its central location,” said organizer Raelyn Joyce. “But next time we go to Portage, our sister city.”

Although KNOW has sustained a non-stop presence of protest since September 2002, it still struggles to gain the attention of citizens in the Kalamazoo area.

“The demonstration was successful,” said organizer Mark Miller, “ but we’re still talking to ourselves. We have yet to break through the indifference of most of our fellow citizens.”

The Kalamazoo peace movement is not alone in experiencing this apparent apathy among citizens. Small groups of peace activists throughout the country have remained steadfast in their protest but they are unable to amass the numbers of demonstrators who joined the 1960’s protests against the Vietnam War—or to match the millions of Americans who marched against this war before it began in 2003.

Some activists maintain that this lack of interest isn’t that people aren’t against the war. Polls show that over 70 percent of Americans want out of Iraq. However, people are communicating their opposition to the war through the Internet, e-mail and cell phones rather than through public demonstration. Many people are more focused on 9/11, which abound with conspiracy theories that the administration planned or at least remained complicit in allowing the attacks to happen.

Nevertheless, the fact that death accompanies war was not lost on Kalamazooans who lay still as “corpses” for 30 minutes on the cold ground covered by a simple white sheet with a red carnation on top.

“It was rough to listen to the multitude of names,” said Kalamazoo College student Adam Marshall. “These were people who had families, experiences, memories. Our government took that away and it’s difficult to reconcile.”

Many participants found the reading of the names moving, even meditative.

“I came because I think we should focus more on the civilians who are dying in this war. We only concentrate on the soldiers,” said Judy Whaley. “During the vigil I thought about how so many of these people would be such an asset to Iraqi society if and when this war is over. And the children—what they might have been.”

Dan Smith said the reading of names brought up a vision of each person.

“It’s as though I saw them as they died.” After the service concluded Smith said his empathy for the dead overwhelmed him to break down in tears.

“It was as though I were transported to Iraq and back,” said Smith.

Lorelei Stoto could also envision people and that lying down as a “corpse” among the other “corpses” was “sad, intensely sad.”

KNOW leader Steve Senesi opened the Die-In by pointing out that the living Iraqis are facing tremendous odds to survive. They must dodge the random killings of mercenaries like Blackwater, U.S. troops who conduct raids in people’s homes in the middle of the night, and insurgents who kill their fellow Iraqis.

“The military calls this ‘collateral damage,’ said Senesi, “and the unintended killing of civilians is a product of warmaking.”

The event was organized by KNOW, the Skyridge Church of the Brethren, the Kalamazoo Friends Meeting, and Swords into Plowshares from WMU's Peace Center. Food Not Bombs provided treats after the demonstration.

On Saturday, October 27 peace activists from Kalamazoo will go to Chicago to participate in a United for Peace & Justice (UPJ) regional mobilization to stop the war in Iraq. Other cities holding a similar demonstration include Boston, Jonesborough, Tenn., Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle. This regional mobilization is a UPJ strategy change from when it held national demonstrations in one or two cities.

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