[I've added photos to the March in New York: see the entry here and then come back :-)]
It just keeps on getting better and better in the USA!
Of all the places on the World March agenda I had expected this place to be the most low-key. I came here about 10 years ago and hated the place because it just felt so dehumanised. It was a city for cars and car-lovers and that was it. When considering the places to come in the USA after New York I decided on Los Angeles because of my friend Mayra Gomez who threw herself totally into the World March in LA. I decided to come and give moral support in case things didn’t turn out as hoped. Boy, did I worry for nothing!
When working with Mayra you have to know that she doesn’t take no for an answer but my god she gets things done!
The 5 base team members who were despatched to LA: Oralia (a new member from Mexico), Kai (with the base team from Africa), Tomaso (videoman who joined us in NY), Micky and myself, were met at the airport by Flip (Phillip) and Nancy our lovely hosts who looked after us like family members throughout our stay in California. Nancy had organised hundreds of children to draw beautiful peace pictures on paper plates that we displayed during our different activities during the day. It is hoped that they will all come down to Punta de Vacas and we will find somewhere to display them.
Anyway, the day started at City Hall where Mayra had been going crazy to organise a declaration from the City Council in support of the World March and to declare 2nd December the day of nonviolence in LA. Until the moment we arrived Mayra wasn’t sure it was going to happen. Days and days of phone calls, e-mails, personal conversations with assistants and councillors had all got stuck with the announcement of Obama’s troop increases in Afghanistan. I think they were worried that we’d come in and say embarrassing things in a place that is staunchly Democrat and has backed Obama all the way and now find themselves with a President that is more militaristic than Bush; and that’s saying something.
Mayra was totally clear and said to them, “Look this is about peace and nonviolence, for the City Council to stand up and support this is a “win-win” situation given the situation of violence in the City.” Fortunately the City saw the logic of the argument and gave us a beautiful declaration and allowed us to address the council. Several of Mayra’s delegation (including sportstars, actors and activists together with the base team and local organisers) were given the opportunity to speak but only 1 minute each. If you went over time a buzzer rang and you had to shut up!
It was great fun and after we spoke several councillors stood up and expressed great solidarity and heart-felt support for the March. Brilliant!!
Among those who spoke were:
Michael Nouri (who was lead actor in the 1983 film Flashdance)
Q’Orianka Kilcher (who played Pochahontas in the 2006 film The New World):
Q’Orianka is extremely interesting, 19, Peruvian by descent, and when she heard of the civil unrest with up to 50 deaths of indigenous people in the Bagua region of Peru due to new laws that would allow oil and mining companies to enter indigenous territories without seeking consent or consultation of the local communities, she went there and took 50 video cameras with her to give to the locals to video what they could of the violent treatment they were receiving.
Anthony Chavez, the grandson of the great (and for me previously unknown) civil rights activist Cesar Chavez who co-founded the United Farm Workers Union and whose non-violent methods such as fasts, strikes and marches led to great improvements in workers rights and the prevention of the use of toxic pesticides on grape production.
Blase Bonpane, who is one of California’s leading, and much loved (from what we saw) peace activists, who has won awards for his peace work in Central America.
Micky and I spoke for the base team.
Then we went to a very lovely event with the local indigenous people, the Tongva nation, whose numbers are as low as 5000 but who continue to fight for indigenous rights and for respect and recognition of their culture, language and sacred lands. In down-town Los Angeles they have a piece of land between a motorway and a train line which they are replanting with the old plants of the area including vegetables, flowers and corn to re-establish a traditional way of looking after the land. It’s very beautiful and a very spiritual place. I guess it’s spiritual because you decide that it’s spiritual. I mean, a piece of land is just a piece of land, but if you say to yourself, “this land is special” then it is and you charge it with a certain energy and when you enter it you do so with a certain emotional tone which is different to the one you have in daily life. This is very nice.
We had a lovely ceremony there. Mayra, who is herself indigenous and dedicates much of her time to indigenous issues, was in her element, explaining to us what was happening and the meanings of the different ceremonial parts. We then had a lunch where everyone brought food to share and then went off to take photos at Hollywood!
This was fun. Micky had us climbing like mountain goats so that we could get just the right picture to show we were here. It turned out well (see below).
Then if we hadn’t already thought that the day had not been a success, in the evening came the icing on the cake. A colourful and joyful march of 500 people headed by Martin Sheen (who coincidentally was in the film “Gandhi”) that took us down Wilshire Boulevard to a church where we had a packed cultural/speaker event. It was so fantastic. Not just because of Martin Sheen, but because of the turn out and the spirit. So many different organisations turned out to support the March and the Paper Plates came with us and looked great. I’m sure some of the crowd came as a protest against Obama’s troop increase to Afghanistan, but that’s perfect. Let everyone come to these Marches and let them bring their flags, their banners, their demands. The March is for everyone who believes in Peace and Nonviolence.
As I said in the church when I was asked to speak, “Los Angeles, you’ve done the World March proud. Thank you so much for your support.”
Many thanks to Mayra, Alex, Sarah, Flip, Nancy, and all those, whose names escape me, who made our day so special. Sadly we only had one day, but what a day it was…