The Whirl of it All
On the ride to D.C., someone asked, "Anyone want to stop at McDonald's drive-through?" No. I did not. I was going to D.C. primarily for an anti-corporate protest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. I was going to D.C. to say that westernization shouldn't be a requirement for a poor country to receive economic assistance; that profit shouldn't be the fundamental force behind the writing of the human story. No, I did not want to stop at McDonald's.On the subway, the train was full of people with signs, Palestinian-style head scarves, and lawyers' phone numbers written on their arms with fat black markers. I popped out of the tunnel and followed along. The crowd led me to the IMF/World Bank headquarters, an enormous building that seemed to be made entirely of mirrors. Hundreds of police protected the building as 1,000 people and gigantic puppets danced, drummed, and chanted in front of it.
As a joke, I decided to use Starbucks' bathroom, 20 feet away from the action. Apparently I wasn't the only person who appreciated comic irony--30 people were in line to use the john. Twenty minutes later a guy ran in, scooped up an armload of coffee beans and coffee mugs and ran out without paying. The store announced it would be closing in five minutes. I wondered why they had opened in the first place.
Then I looked out the window and saw thousands of people marching down the street. They all seemed to carry the black, white, red and green Palestinian flag. The IMF/World Bank rally was swept away with them, as if by a river. I finished my business in Starbucks and rushed to catch up.
I made it to the Mall, our destination, and sat down. Then I watched as the marchers--a colorful, vast procession--continued for more than an hour. At some point I turned around and saw a group of Muslim men praying together on the green grass, their bodies stretched out, the crowd around them silent and mesmerized.
Those Who Speak and Those Who Don't
Like his famous father would have done, Martin Luther King III stirred up the crowd at the April 20 "Stop the War at Home and Abroad!" rally held in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Before King was introduced to the audience estimated at close to 100,000 people, North Carolina native and Duke graduate, Father John Dear, a Jesuit priest, shook King's hand, thanking the SCLC president for accepting an invitation to address the nation's largest anti-war rally since the "war on terrorism" began last fall.
In 1993-94, Dear spent almost a year in several North Carolina jails for hammering on an F-15E war jet as part of a plowshares protest at Goldsboro's Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Dear said King and Philip Berrigan were the only two speakers with high name recognition who agreed to address the anti-war rally; 40 other celebrities whom Dear said he invited to speak, all turned down the invitation.
Dear, who is the brother of Steve Dear, head of Carrboro-based People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, said it was likely fear that kept the Hollywood folks away.
"These are really good people who have done a lot of good work for peace and justice, but the times have changed, and they've paid a price for speaking out," Dear said. "I suspect a lot of people are afraid to speak out because it might hurt their careers because this war is so popular, and the celebrities don't want to appear unpatriotic."
Before taking the stage, King said the signs of the times are ominous, and peacemakers must make their voices be heard despite a press bias in favor of the war.
"Sept. 11 made us as a nation kind of grow silent," King said. And those who have been willing to speak about peace have been "blacked out" by the US media.
"I want us to rid our world of terrorism, but I disagree with the approach that we've taken, the strategies, the bombings," King continued. "I said that even before the bombing started because we were told it was going to happen."
While the crowd was large, King said it wasn't large enough.
"It should be even bigger," he said, "because it's so serious. ... We're on the brink of destroying our world."
In some ways, the rally was reminiscent of the Jan. 19 anti-war event in Raleigh. Berrigan, Rania Masri and Amber Amundson--all of whom spoke in Raleigh--were among the speakers in D.C. Cary's David Potorti, who lost his brother in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, was a major organizer of the event. The crowd had a significant turnout of North Carolinians as well. Approximately 200 people from the Triangle came to D.C., most of them aboard a dozen vans rented by N.C. Peace 1st.
Among those on the vans was Raleigh resident Joyce Sunseri, a mother of three who was at her first large anti-war protest. To be among so many others who shared her beliefs was uplifting, Sunseri said.
"There is a possibility for change because it's bigger than I even guessed, and it's really important to stay with it."
The 78-year-old Berrigan, who was Dear's co-defendant in the Seymour Johnson caper, didn't mince words.
"I ask you," Berrigan said, "how can the number one terrorist nation wage any sort of realistic war against terrorism?"
We Are All Palestinian
Hundreds of us woke up on the morning of April 20 groggy but determined to board our various buses and vans for the five-hour trip to D.C. As we passed the Pentagon, marked by a gigantic crane near where a part of it was destroyed on Sept. 11, we wondered if the officials planning our lives inside would care to look outside to see what the world was telling them in no uncertain words--no destruction in our name.As we approached the first of several rallies going on, the collective cries of "We are all Palestinian" rose in the air. One Jewish woman we met had just taken a plane up from Nashville, Tenn., expressly to look for other Jewish people who would oppose the occupation. Another said, tongue-in-cheek, on a banner: "One Jew for Palestinians."
We also met Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, Canadians, Brits, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Koreans, Algerians, Sudanese, Palestinians, Latinos, white and African-American allies--the Greens, the global justice people, the Raging Grannies, schoolchildren from inner city New York, and veterans of U.S. wars.
Yes, "We are all Palestinian"--by virtue of being occupied by a media that distorts the pain and suffering of people around the world; "We are all Palestinian" because no politician or public official has the courage to stand up and speak on behalf of those who oppose the system on moral and ethical grounds; and "We are all Palestinian" because we still have humanity left in us.
But we are not all Palestinian because we can only shed tears for them when they are shedding blood (as Robert Jensen, quoting Jose Marti, reminded us at the teach-in on the "New War Economy"), and we are not all Palestinian because we have comfortable homes to go back to at the end of a long day.
The day wrapped up with our African-American bus driver, Mike, congratulating us for having made the trip--wishing that all of this had been done a long time ago--and thanking us for traveling with "American Classic."
What the Council CAN and Can't Do
The grassroots group Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN) has committed to an "agenda for change" that aims to improve the lives of Durhamites at the street level. Their goals include: convincing city and county leaders to hire bilingual staffers; providing free after-school programs for children; testing children and houses for lead poisoning; improving job training; and generally encouraging government agencies to respond efficiently to neighborhood concerns. (See "Building Blocs," Jan. 16, 2002.)This spring, group leaders took that agenda to the Durham City Council to enlist elected leaders in their efforts. They offered to partner with the city in pursuit of their goals, such as offering CAN members to be trained as lead paint testers and providing background data on job training centers from an audit CAN volunteers conducted last year.
"We were coming to them with some thought-out ideas," says chief organizer Chris Bishop. Based on a model established by legendary Chicago labor activist Saul Alinsky, and affiliated with Alinsky's national Industrial Areas Foundation, Durham CAN includes members from multiracial and multidenominational churches, neighborhood associations, and political action committees. Durham CAN's methodology centers on "building relationships."
Only problem is, when it comes to relationships with elected leaders, the door has to be open to the public as well. About 25 Durham CAN members met privately with four of the six City Council members in a half-day "retreat" on March 16. Under the N.C. Open Meetings law, any meeting that includes a majority of members of an elected body discussing business constitutes a public meeting, unless it falls under specific exemptions such as personnel matters.
City Clerk Ann Gray--whose job it is to notify the public of council meetings, and keep the minutes--says she didn't know about the council's CAN retreat. Bishop says he didn't know it fell under the open meetings law.
Council members Lewis Cheek, Cora Cole-McFadden, Thomas Stith and Howard Clement attended the Saturday meeting. (Did any of the four bring up North Carolina's open meetings law?) All six council members were invited, but Tamra Edwards is out on medical leave and John Best Jr. did not respond, Bishop said. CAN members have also met separately with Mayor Bill Bell and City Manager Marcia Conner.
"We wanted to give updates on our work and hear what was happening on the council," says Bishop, adding that the group holds three or four "delegate assemblies" each year that are open to the public. But for meetings with elected officials, Bishop says: "When we do these meetings, we have an agenda going into it, so I would encourage people to contact our office and learn more about what Durham CAN is trying to do."
Durham CAN is a strong new voice for Durham's "average citizens"--those without political connections, money and power, that's why the group should be careful not to adopt the habits of those who do have them. CAN's office number is 530-8515.
Pumping Raleigh Up and Tearing the Mall Down
The Raleigh City Council the other day adopted Urban Design Guidelines, which will be to the city's land-use planning what that crunch board in the garage is to your waistline: helpful if you actually use it, and then just for one of your problem areas. The UDGs--guidelines about the height, scale and look of buildings--apply only to mixed-use developments (retail-residential-office) proposed in areas designated for them, according to the Raleigh planning department. Even then, their use would be "voluntary," Raleigh Planning Director George Chapman says. Should a developer propose a mixed-use project in a place not so designated, he could "declare" that the UDGs should apply, or not; neighbors could argue that they should apply, or not; and ultimately, the City Council could apply them, or--just as in the designated areas--not.Councilor Neal Hunt forecast that one day the UDGs might be codified--that is, lifted up from mere suggestions to requirements with the force of law. For now, joked Councilor Benson Kirkman, they have no teeth and even the gums are weak.
Thus does Raleigh exist in two worlds of planning at one and the same time: "Fairly precise, but flexible too," as Chapman's deputy William Breazeale put it. Raleigh says what it wants. It just doesn't insist on it.
Still, the UDGs are a step in the direction of putting some muscles on the mushy form called the Raleigh Comprehensive Plan. Chapman's department is working on another step: infill guidelines that could apply to higher-density residential projects in neighborhood settings. And City Manager Russell Allen has proposed a third: an Urban Design Center to guide downtown redevelopment.
The center would be both a place and a person who, while reporting to Chapman, would be visibly, actively in charge of the city's planning in and around the Fayetteville Street Mall. Folks could stop in and see what she's up to ... what the developers have up their sleeves ... and where citizen action is needed next. Allen wanted to get the center established before the council decided whether to tear out (most of) the mall and return car traffic to Fayetteville Street. However, Mayor Charles Meeker thinks the mall issue is ripe, and he's pushed it onto the council's agenda May 7.
It's expected that the vote will be to take out the mall. But whether it comes out or not, a host of downtown development issues needs to be addressed. Does the city want more tall buildings? How tall? Does it matter where they go?
The issue of building heights, often contentious, arose in the Coker Towers case, but there it was secondary to the question of the traffic from Coker's hoped-for shopping center. But it's center stage in the case of 600 North Boylan, a 10-story condominium project looking for a rezoning on May 7. The city's Glenwood South plan--a guideline, just like the UDGs--calls for no more than six stories to the west of Glenwood Avenue. Will the City Council follow its own plan? Or be, uh, flexible?