Saturday, April 19, 2008

What Happened 15 Years Ago in Waco, Texas?

Today is the 15th anniversary of the U.S. government's storming of the Branch Davidians Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas. Federal agents released CS tear gas into the building, and several fires broke out, spreading quickly through the structure. Approximately 76 Branch Davidians, 21 of whom were children, were killed in the ensuing blaze. Autopsies confirmed that many of the victims, including David Koresh, had died of single gunshot wounds to their heads. As I recall, no government agent fired a gun during this assault.

This raid culminated from a costly 51-day stand off which stemmedfrom the murder of four ATF agents while they were serving a lawful warrant on Davidian cult leader David Koresh.

This all-time great Michael Ramirez cartoon adequately expresses my own view at the time as to where the true responsibility for this tragedy lies.
David Koresh, a false prophet, broke the peace.

Peace Island 2008!

Come Stand (And Sing) With Us - As we greet the Republican National Convention!
Twin Cities, Sept. 1-4, 2008
No one will mistake our homemade production of "If I had a banner" for something out of Hollywood.

In Hollywood, you don't have to work around the below zero wind chills and series of snow blizzards we're still getting deluged with in April! In Hollywood, someone would have probably remembered to wash her windshield glass before trying to film that "ribbon of highway" through it.

So even in the lowest-budget category, our recent film effort won't be up for any awards. But it is authentic--right down to the perfectly timed car honk! Amateurish but heartfelt.

The Power of Song

The story of how Pete Seeger's music came to inspire our Minnesota peace vigils--and also some of our preparations for the
all being planned for the Twin Cities, Sept. 1-4, 2008--is itself quite powerful. It was Norman Lear's post on Huffington Post in April 2007 describing the documentary he had just produced about Pete Seeger, that got more than a few of us in the Twin Cities peace community to the theatre during its way-too-short run. The final scene in the movie--of their peace vigil in Beacon, NY, showing Seeger and his friends holding signs while cars honk and his song, Bring 'em Home, playing during the final credits--really connected with us. One of my friends was so inspired, that she took the initiative of finding and putting that song, along with other Seeger favorites onto a special peace CD. So, a couple weeks later, Pete's voice and spirit came out of our boom box and onto our driveway as we and 40 some other peace activists launched our first major banner painting project.

It turned out to be the last nice weekend before winter, still warm enough for paint to dry outside. As we painted, we hummed along and gradually the lyrics of This Land is Your Land, If I had a Hammer and We Shall Overcome got into our souls. No doubt, it was the power of song which helped us produce so many fluorescent orange "Don't Bomb Iran" banners which we displayed a couple days later, on Halloween Eve, from Twin City footbridges scattered over busy highways, reaching over 100,000 main stream motorists.

Our Minnesota peace vigil group decided, at that point, we'd try for more than the spiritual connection with Pete Seeger and the Beacon NY group. It took about a month but ultimately we again proved Stanley Milgram's social psychology theory correct that we're all connected by six degrees. Actually, we bested Milgram's theory and found several avenues had always connected our group to Seeger's even though we didn't know it. One of the connections--only two degrees apart!--was, we discovered, through Minnesota troubadour Larry Long who has collaborated for years with Pete Seeger musically and also, beginning decades ago, on Hudson and Mississippi River clean-ups.

When I finally packed up a couple of our banners and traveled to Beacon in late February, the musical icon fell ill (after standing out in the cold during his weekly peace vigil). So Pete's grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, was forced to do without Grandpa at the public event the next day. He chose his grandfather's classic Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and succeeded in bringing the house down. Naturally we asked Tao to come out and headline our "Peace Island Picnic 2008" for which we were lucky to win the St. Paul Parks' lottery process for Harriet Island on Sept. 4, the final day of the RNC.

As you can see from the video, our group, since blossomed into the "Twin Cities Banner Brigade and Peace Island Picnic Committee 2008" is still benefiting from the power of song. It's totally people-powered as we don't have any other professional expertise or funding source yet involved with our plans. But we DO already have 77 peace banners painted; three precedent-setting marches on the RNC practiced; a schedule published for the Peace Island-Solutions Driven Conference; the aforesaid "Peace Island Picnic" park permit; and commitments from Tao Rodriquez-Seeger, Larry Long, and other local peace musicians.

So Please Come to Minnesota to March, Sing and Stand With Us!

We thought this music video might be a good way to showcase our plans for the RNC and to invite more peace and social- environmental justice themed musicians as well as plain citizen activists (like ourselves) to come participate. So please everyone who's interested, mark Sept. 1- 4 on your calendar and start figuring out how you'll get to Minnesota to help us take a stand. We'll be discussing real solutions to the issues; hoping to hold at least a hundred new banners on surrounding footbridges; marching on the RNC and picnicking for peace. Questions or suggestions can be posted at Twin City Peace Vigils. (We'd love to hear from anyone with real experience organizing such events.)

Norman Lear aptly described Seeger when he said that one person's voice can make a difference. Dare we hope, along these lines, that our collective voices and entreaties for peace might find constructive ways to not only reach RNC goers but to help turn the country around?!

Perhaps the power of song is just what a country needs when it finds itself waist deep in the Big Muddy.