Monday, January 5, 2009

On the corner of 6th and Lamar

Since the beginning of the Israeli offensive into Gaza last week, people have been gathering at various places in Austin on a daily basis to publicly denounce the siege. News reporters covered the gathering on Monday night at the capitol, but I have not seen reports of the ongoing local demonstrations since then.

Today (Sunday, 1-4-09) there was a call to gather at noon at the corner of 6th and Lamar to hold signs in response to the ground offensive against Gaza. I was able to spend about a half hour at the intersection on my way to a meeting.

The sign I brought today read, "Every Palestinian and Israeli death diminishes us." Earlier in the day, I had been reading the latest newsletter of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, which included a report from the team in Colombia. I have friends there working in conjunction with CPT, so I am especially interested in what is happening in their area. The report described a vigil held in front of the home of a community member who was murdered on Thanksgiving Day. Instead of calling for vengeance, the CPT member wrote that the vigilers "sang songs, lit candles and listened to community leaders insist, 'Enough! We cannot tolerate any more assassinations in Barrancabermeja. The death of one of us diminishes us all.'" So, I painted my sign accordingly. What would happen, I wondered, if, instead of using bombs, rockets and ground forces, groups of people stood in front of the homes of all war victims and said, "Enough!"

I was the third person to arrive at the corner of 6th and Lamar, so I had a chance to talk a bit with the other two people who were there before the gathering grew. I learned that the young woman holding the Palestinian flag was an Iranian grad student and the young man who handed me an "Austin Permanent Peace Protest" leaflet was of Palestinian Christian background, currently teaching at ACC. A friend of theirs soon arrived who accepted some fliers to hand to passersby. She mentioned offhandedly that she had been imprisoned in Iran for a year when she was 18 years old simply for distributing leaflets. I learned that she has just published a memoir called In the House of My Bibi [Bibi means grandmother], about her life in Iran, and that she had, in fact, just done a booksigning yesterday at Borders. She is scheduled to do another signing at Book People on January 14th. I hope to attend.

When you see people standing on a street corner holding signs and passing out fliers, you may be inclined to lump them all together in some category or other. But, don't be too quick to do that. You may be surprised. I would not have expected to be standing next to a woman from Iran whose family was persecuted under the Khomeini regime. But, there she was, a survivor of religious extremism, asking aloud, "Wouldn't you think that after all these years, we would have learned?" Yes, you would think.

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