“Start spreading the news! I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it: New York, New York,” sings Frank Sinatra in my head as I reflect on what has been an extraordinary day.
Yesterday began at 5:00am and finished at 2:00am today, I was wearing my t-shirt on top of my sweater all day in the form of a walking advertisement – welcome back to the World March!
It really was extraordinary though.
The base team arrived at 6:00 am on Monday after a flight from Senegal that was the last country on the African leg of the March. I can’t imagine a greater contrast. From poverty to wealth, from nothing to everything, from summer to winter, even from French to English (and a lot of Spanish). Everything has changed for the base team.
I was staying with Dennis Redmond who may be the only real New Yorker in the NY organising committee and USA Coordinator. And it was at his place on Sunday morning when we finally got confirmation of our guest star for Monday: Dr. Bernard Lafayette. We’ve been trying to contact this guy for years, ever since the North American New Humanist Forum 2 years ago, and finally at the last minute we got his confirmation that he’s landing on Monday morning and he’ll speak on the Monday evening event and head the March as it leaves Brooklyn. This guy worked with Martin Luther King in the civil rights struggles in the 1960’s. He was with MLK the day he was shot, and having failed for years to finish college due to being jailed so many times for his activism, he finally finished his undergraduate degree, masters and doctorate in 4 years to qualify and develop one of the most interesting programmes of nonviolence education in the World today.
I feel humbled, and like I’m a fraud, when I have the great pleasure to talk to him over dinner. I talk about nonviolence and, apart from being nice to people in my daily life and living my life as coherently as possible, it’s nothing compared to Lafayette. He talks about nonviolence and describes how he was arrested 27 times in the civil rights struggles. I talk about nonviolence and how we organised a forum about the subject in the UK. He talks about nonviolence and how he took on one of the toughest centres of racism in Alabama, a place called Selma, where “the Blacks are too scared and the Whites are too mean,” and (together with others) organised the Selma to Montgomery marches – a conflict that led to the Voting Rights act of 1965. I talk about nonviolence with people in the UK and we discuss about what to do when there’s a conflict over whose turn it is to do the washing up or how to deal with someone who pushes you as you get into the underground train. He talks about his work with nonviolence and explains how a young Nigerian boy, after going through the active nonviolence course, wakes him up at the training centre at 3:00am to confess that before the course he was responsible for 170 deaths in violent confrontations in the Niger Delta.
This guy is worthy of respect when talking about nonviolence. I’m not sure that I am.
Back to the March earlier in the day; an estimated 1200 people participated in the March across Brooklyn Bridge today. The atmosphere was electric. So many young people came to support the March: ok, they got the day off school for this, but it was cold, wet and raining. If I were them (and 16 years old), I’m sure I’d have headed for the nearest shopping centre or coffee shop. It was great. We had Veterans for Peace, the students, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Parrots for Peace, Pax Christi, a local Hindu organisation, Brooklyn for Peace, World without Wars (obviously) and many others (who I can’t remember and who I will add if they let me know). As one end of the March was leaving the bridge the back end of the March was just approaching the bridge. And it was an absolutely miserable day for weather! I bought my 3rd umbrella of the World March: the first one being in Sydney, Australia and the second one in Vicenza, Italy.
Later in the evening we had the speaker and musical event at Riverside Church, which is where MLK gave his speech “beyond Vietnam” which caused such outrage at the time because he attacked the US government for the war in Vietnam. For the World March we had Rafael speaking and Tomas Hirsch from Chile for Latin America, and Chris Wells for North America. Chris had the unenviable task of following Dr Lafayette though. We have a video which we’ll put up on youtube as soon as we can, but he was just an incredible speaker. He told us that we had given him inspiration! What an incredible compliment for the World March.
During the event we saw a great 5 minute summary of the World March up to Spain and finally, at the end of the event we got to hear a live performance of “Peace on Earth” (for those who don’t know Dennis he appears at 0:16 on the video wearing a suit!). We were all on our feet clapping and singing.
To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, “If we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere. It’s up to you New York, New York!” I think we can safely say that we made it here…
Pictures, as soon as I can find someone who took pictures yesterday…