Monday morning dawns rainy in New York City. Along with 20 others, I'm waiting in a park up the hill from the United Nations. In a half-hour we'll stroll down the steps next to the Isaiah wall (which carries those famous lines about turning swords into plowshares), round the corner and join another group in peacefully occupying the steps to the U.S. Mission--the U.S. arm of the United Nations. We'll be arrested, but for now we mingle among longtime friends from around the country.
We've come to NYC for a teach-in and demonstration to end the 10-year-long sanctions against Iraq. All weekend we've heard the same awful U.N. statistics that have reverberated in our heads for years: more than 1 million Iraqis already dead and 4,500 children dying each month. We've heard Denis Halliday, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator, who resigned in protest over the hopelessly inadequate oil-for-food program. We've applauded the news about Halliday's successor, Hans von Sponeck, who resigned on Feb. 13 for the same ethical reasons. And we've carefully strategized our occupation of the Mission steps. Descending from different directions, we'll enact what my friend calls "the classic pincher move."
It's time, and we leave, slowly, casually. The first group is already at the Mission steps, and we swarm up to them, catching the two security guards by surprise. Before they know it, the steps are covered, and we are clapping and singing because someone's life depends on it: Wake up! The children are dying. The children of Iraq.
Most of the police are up the street at a larger rally where hundreds are calling for an end to the genocide. It's half an hour before they can handcuff and clear us all off. Even then, two women who refuse to walk to the paddy wagon kneel at the top step, still singing and displaying pictures taken by members of our group, of Iraqi children--now dead. Later a policeman tells one of these women: "You won today. You looked good up there."
While waiting in the 17th Precinct, Kathy Kelly, founder of the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness, assures us that the Iraqi people will hear our demonstration and take hope. I want to believe that there is hope for these people, who for 10 years have seen nothing change for the better and many, many things worsen.
Back in North Carolina, that thought drives me awake each morning and poses the question: Today, what will you do to stop the killing of Iraq?