We lose they lose

On the forbidden sidewalkProtesting at the side of the street does seem futile at times, it certainly seems so just thinking about it. But out there catching each others eyes, you’re reminded of its mysterious power, particularly when you’re shown to what extent those against you are willing to go to keep you from being there.

When we first turned up Monday at the Broadmoor Space Symposium Arms Bazaar, we were quickly moved from a section sidewalk declared off limits to us. The police could not explain exactly what ordinance or why, except that they had orders to keep us off the Lake Circle sidewalk. We complied the way reasonable people do, because the area to which we were confined seemed at first glance perfectly suitable. We occupied the corner of Lake and Lake Circle, where we could hand fliers to symposium attendees crossing to the Convention Center. But this gave us contact with only a fraction of the participants in attendance. The majority of the weapons dealers stayed inside the center, whose windows faced the sidewalk area forbidden to us.

We decided to accept the “free speech zone” given us until we could research the new restriction, mindful of the recent Appeals Court verdict which upheld the Broadmoor’s discretion to cordon off its entire neighborhood as a security zone for the NATO conference some years back. Citizens for Peace In Space lost that appeal.

It took Bill Sulzman until 10pm Wednesday to get someone at the CSPD to speak to the issue of the exclusive use permit granted to the Broadmoor. That representative, a Commander Overton, agreed to meet Bill the next morning to negotiate where protesters would or would not be restricted.

Was this a victory of discourse and civility? It certainly was a victory for the Space Arms Symposium. They effectively kept us off their turf until the last day, then thwarted a legal challenge by deciding to give in. We got to stand on the contested sidewalk for a snowy hour of the last day of the conference.

This is where less confrontational pacifists hinder their protest efforts. It might be well to resolve your differences by arbitration, meanwhile the bad guys hold the real estate. In the end our message does not get out, the war rages on, we are entangled in bureaucratic battles until our rights are upheld. This was the tactic used at the DNC, RNC, FTAA, WTO, and indeed our own St Patrick’s Day: detain the dissidents until their opportunity to be heard has passed. It’s an abridgment of our civil liberties, and the government factors into its budget the liability of likely legal judgments.

But what price lost free speech? What cost for every day the war goes on? We know that number. What cost for each further contract for more WMDs? If protest could stop that, that’s the price the government owes us. Could street protest have that effect? Somebody thinks so.

Last year at the Broadmoor, the reaction to our protest was very telling. The first day we were nearly arrested for trying to walk along the edge of a cordoned area, the same contested sidewalk. The head of Broadmoor security was screaming for officers to arrest us. The next day I was assaulted by an overwrought Marines commander in jogging shorts. He circled right to me and flung his hands around my throat, pushing me back until policemen pulled him off. The next day we rode a bicycle up and down the bike path adjacent the blocked sidewalk, to relentless harassment and endangerment by the security vehicle. Somebody doesn’t like to have to gaze upon our message. We could see military brass last year watching from the windows with arms crossed.

Our banners, then and now, quote Henry Ford “Take the profit out of war and you’ll have peace tomorrow” and President Eisenhower “Beware the military industrial complex.” We also have this haunting question: “will your children survive your work?”

The arms manufacturers in attendance at the Broadmoor are normally well buffeted from the real world. They work in industrial complexes and high rises out of reach of humanist and spiritual voices of conscience. They certainly don’t have to see the results of their work, the suffering or the poverty. They ride high on the war gravy train.

The Broadmoor gathering for me is the rare chance to look these people in the eye, to examine the war profiteers in their insular habitat. They might be bellicose, or proud, or defensive, and they may deride us. If it seems their consciences are not keeping score, the symposium organizers seem to have more faith in them than we do.

On this occasion the military industrial complex beat us, they kept us out of sight for most of their event. But we won too. No we didn’t get to challenge their method in court, but we did get to stand in the forbidden zone of their periphery, if but for a morning, a cold snowy morning. Though I believe the increasing snow fall lent our message the credibility of determination. We got to aim this banner right at them: “Will your children survive your work?”

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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1 Response to We lose they lose

  1. Avatar Diann says:

    I thought you would love to know, Eric, that two of the attendees of the Space Symposium visited The Liberal Store yesterday and bought anti-Bush stuff. Granted they found it by accident, but maybe, just maybe your message is getting through to a few. On this occasion the military complex did NOT beat you, as the “determined” message, whether it’s from your efforts or others, IS making a difference!

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