Category Archives: Resistance

Reflections on October 2011 and the occupations across the U.S.

A few friends have asked me to write about my trip to DC, and I know I need to pull together a report for MPT and for the wonderful folks whose support made it possible for me to go (those who contributed $ for transportation, my beautiful co-workers who immediately made it clear they were willing to pick up my shifts at the clinic, my friends who offered support in case of arrest…. So many that I carried with me on my short trip.)

And yet, as I go to write, it seems difficult to find the story, challenging to express what I feel with the inadequacy of words.  So I guess I will start with some background and some general observations – see what becomes of it.

Some background: Last summer Michigan Peace Team members met Elliott Adams at the US Social Forum. He joined us on our team there and later attended our training for trainers.  On his recommendation Veterans for Peace invited us to join them in DC for the October 11: Stop the Machine Events http://october2011.org/  The idea was we would facilitate  at least one general nonviolence training and then facilitate a “peace team” training (or to use the term they use, a “peace keeper training”  for Veterans for Peace and friends who would be providing an alternative to typical “security” at the October 2011 occupation.  We readily agreed and a team of 5 of us headed to DC early Monday AM in a rental van filled with training supplies, apples, granola bars and other “protest food”.

Observations and such:
Our first training was Tuesday afternoon. A smallish group (20ish people to start w/ others trickling in as the day went on.) There are people from so many places: DC, California, Alaska, Ohio, NY. So exciting. A good chunk of them have tons of experience, but for many this is the first training they have ever attended for the first “protest” they have ever been a part of. A few folks have come directly from Occupy Wall Street and we are all eager to hear and learn from their experiences.

Tuesday night, unable to sleep I find myself in the middle of an intense discussion with some others who had been in NY at occupy Wall Street, and some who are new to all of this. We are discussing consensus. Its challenges and why it is so important. I appreciate their willingness to be self critical as part of the movement and think about how we can keep learning and doing this better.  I end up facilitating some quick decision exercises and a somewhat longer consensus role play.

Our training Wednesday is much larger. We start with a crowd of around 50 and more and more just keep arriving and squeezing in as the afternoon goes on.  We end up with around 75-80 participants. Again, the experience in the group ranges from those with no formal nonviolence training who have never been in a protest or a rally to those who are professional facilitators and trainers. Folks from Portland, OR to Portland, ME from Alaska to Hawaii and lots of places in between.  The training is challenging, but all in all goes well and we get tons of good feedback. I am stuck by the deep dedication to nonviolence in the group, and the commitment to see our opponents as human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Thursday, and the first day of the occupation at Freedom Plaza arrive. The MPT team heads there early. We are not there to act “as a peace team” but rather to be support and a resource to those that are… empowering and widening the circle.  A few folks approach me about joining the peace team and I end up doing an impromptu “street training” in a corner of Freedom Plaza.  Around a dozen people gather for discussions, hassle lines, and other role plays. It’s energized and fun and people seem to get something out of it.

Later that day those in Freedom Plaza march to the Chamber of Commerce. Seeing the crowd approach the chamber closes before the action even begins — we had heard of a similar experience from “occupy DC” who shut down Bank of America. Elliott mentions Alinsky’s lesson that it is often the reaction to the action that is the action.

The evening brings the first general assembly for this group. A quick explanation of the consensus process is given and folks begin.  The agenda is short w/ just 2 main items. Still, we run out of time and have to table one until the following day. Facilitation is good, but it is clear many in the group have not used this process before. That is both challenging and exciting. The group is discussing the possibilities for sleeping/camping through the night; legal and other risks as well as goals and strategic targets. A man stands up to speak. He notes that until very recently he was homeless and living on the streets in DC he tells us “here is what you need to know about sleeping on streets and sidewalks in DC.” — he shares with us both information and his opinions about our options.  I find myself feeling hopeful because the crowd gathered recognizes his expertise and sees that a voice that would often be marginalized has much to offer the group.

Returning to the church for our last night I am both pumped and sad. I know things are just getting started and I don’t want to leave. For me this will all be more interesting and more important as the “formal” or “planned” events come to close and the community gathered /the action itself takes on a life of it’s own. But, I know we all need to get back, and I can’t help but think much of our work is really at home.

Unable to sleep again, I join a group gathered in the auditorium of the church. A few folks there have come right from Occupy Wall Street and are sharing their thoughts — willing to be critical of the movement they feel a part of in order that we all learn and grow. The talk centers on provocateurs and after some discussion I facilitate some role plays before heading to bed for a few hours of sleep before the drive home.

Some thoughts upon the return home:
Being a part of this was inspiring and did feel in some ways historic. Although, as originally planned the “Stop the Machine; Create a new world “ or “October 2011” movement was not planned in conjunction with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, it is hard not to see them as all part of a piece. And, in fact, I believe it has become just that.  With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how things look in DC in a few days – or a few weeks. The October 2011 was a planned and organized event with definable leadership, a stage and a program. But, of course, the community gathered and the actions themselves took on a life of their own – a life that will be influenced by the Occupation of Wall Street and the Solidarity occupations occurring all over the country. Once the permit runs out on the evening of Oct. 9th what will happen?  It seems to me that in many ways how the community evolves and what tools are used become the action. A model of direct democracy and inclusion, a radical example of what can be.

There is opportunity here. And hope. I firmly believe that the more people standing up to demand justice and freedom for ALL the better. The greater the numbers demanding economic equality, corporate and bank accountability, an end to the wars that waste financial resources &  even more important precious lives, and that every voice is heard  the better off we are.  In DC, on Wall Street and in the hundreds of other cities and towns where people have come together to occupy there is opportunity. And our message is beyond important.

Yet the means is also the message and if we are unwilling to be self critical we risk a message that is hypocritical and marginalizing.

And let’s face it — we are not inclusive. While the crowd in DC was diverse in age and experience and in where we come from –  we were still the folks who could come. Yes, everyone’s voice can be heard at the General Assemblies — if you are present.

But, it is hard to be present, in DC, In NY or even in your own community if you are working multiple jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over your head.  It is far riskier to be present if you are undocumented.  I notice, the crowd in DC (and from what friends at occupy Wall Street have told me) is largely white. No, not exclusively – but still not truly representative of the 99% we strive to represent.

A friend of mine — who I have sat through many long and tedious meetings with – has joked that consensus sometimes seems like tyranny of those with the strongest bladders.  I believe in the consensus process, but know we need to work to be sure it does not become “tyranny of those who could take time off from work/ those who could travel/ those who have papers”

I am glad that the 99% are starting to realize we have far more common ground than not. That, as one poster said  “The patchouli wearing hippie liberals and the ATV riding, gun owning conservatives are starting to realize they are not one another’s enemy but share a common opponent “. That is something. It is powerful and important. But let’s not gloss over the fact is that among the 99%  inequalities do exist,  there are differences of wealth and privilege.  Denying that reality only adds to the marginalization.

I’m not suggesting we give up, or allow guilt about the privilege some do have to paralyze us or lead us to inaction. I am saying we need to talk to one another about our different experiences and we need to LISTEN. I am suggesting that we acknowledge both our privilege and our hurt histories and we strive to dismantle those systems of oppression, which means being willing to hear how we perpetuate these systems. We need to take care with our language, our symbols, our “targets” and our messages.

For example, one of the women who spoke noted that  we may not have media ready sound-bites and a list of demands because we are not there yet, “ we are the beginning of a movement”. Her overall message was beautiful — that the movement itself can be a message, that process is important and that this is not a stand alone moment.

But let’s be real…. we are not the beginning. The economic crisis did not begin with the bank bailout or even with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers. Poor and working class people know the “crisis” is not new but a direct result of how the system works — that capitalism has always only served the needs of a very small group. And that the group it serves is primarily white and often men.

Let’s not fail to recognize that countless actions have come before, that so many people have been engaged in this struggle for so long.

Solidarity means demanding accountability for the police brutality we saw visited on those protesting on Wall Street. But it also means recognizing that for far too many people of color police brutality is an every day fact of life.  Solidarity means demanding accountability there as well.

It seems we also need to acknowledge that where ever we choose to occupy — we are doing so on stolen land.  Our indigenous brothers and sisters deserve as much — and more.

And so, as I return from DC I am excited. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of something that could be real change. I love our commitment to nonviolence and the modeling of consensus as a part of an attempt to be truly democratic.  I am thrilled with the possibilities before us. We want to build a new world. I believe we can do it. But if we build the new without examining the materials we are using we risk using contaminated and broken materials. This will only leave that which we are building broken and contaminated.

We can do better. We must.

Independence Day reflections: celebrating the hidden history of nonviolence

Ask about the American Revolution, or American Independence and you will hear about “the stamp act” and “no taxation without representation”.  You will likely also hear about the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the French, Spanish and Dutch all secretly providing supplies, ammunition and weapons. US citizens will speak with pride about the spirit of the militiamen who triumphed against the better armed and better trained British Military.

General Washington’s Christmas crossing of the Delaware River, sneak attacks, and fierce battles are a part of our collective narrative. The “Revolutionary war” gets all the credit for wining independence for the colonists and has been used as one more justification for military operations ever since.

Missing from this narrative, however, is a big piece of the story. Missing from this narrative is the effective use of nonviolence in moving toward freedom. Sure, many of us learned of the “Boston Tea Party” – where revolutionaries, dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded ships in the Boston Harbor dumping tea into the water. But, this usually gets noted as a random act and not as part of a well planned and wall coordinated campaign of nonviolence that included a boycott of tea.

A boycott of tea that turned Americans into coffee-drinkers, and with the Boston Tea Party an act of civil disobedience that included over 60 individuals boarding 3 ships in a busy harbor and dumping 342 chest of tea. An act of property destruction as civil disobedience that took place with no incidents of looting, and no vandalism.

But tea was not the only target of the economic boycott, cloth was also widely boycotted. We often hear about Gandhi’s spinning wheel and the movement in India to wear “home-spun” rather than support the British fabric industry, but this tactic was also employed in the colonies where Homespun was the fashion and spinning bees were patriotic gatherings.

I am not trying to repaint the history of the US as one of nonviolence. It is true – for better or worse — we were a nation founded on violence. Sadly that violence has stayed with us into today. Could we have done it without violence? Would our military policy look different today if we had? I don’t pretend to know.

But, I do believe, when we completely leave out the important role of nonviolent tactics in the struggle we loose an important part of out history. And worse still, we loose the lessons that show us nonviolence works.

As John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “The revolution was in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before the hostilities commenced.”

Could we have won our independence without a violent war? I guess no one can know for certain, but as I read John Adams words I can’t help but wonder where we would be if “the hostilities has not commenced.”

to see what is negative as a potential positive; more from the USSF

Thursday 6/24

Today is the day for going to workshops I tell myself. Yesterday was great – nonviolence training, peace teams, and speaking on a panel, but today I want to be a participant.

First up, a conversation with Grace Lee Boggs and Emmanuel Wallerstein, two elders of the movement.

Grace Lee Boggs is an amazing organizer who celebrated her 95th birthday this last week. She and her husband, Jimmie Boggs, who died in 1993, have been the center of much of the creative and inspiring work in Detroit for decades.

The room is packed with not a chair available. People sit on the floor, lie on the floor, lean against the walls …. Joy and anticipation in the air.

I love how easily they talk about love. They put their heart into their work. It seems to be what sustains them. So much I can say and write about this one workshop alone… here are some highlights (in no particular order):

* Ideas matter, We need to understand our place in history, and we need to understand between local and international struggles

* “Another world is possible, but not inevitable. The world of 2050 will be what we make it. We have the power within us to change it.”

* We need to resist the danger of becoming mindless activists acting as if only action matters. Ideas matter”

* The struggle is both long and immediate. We need to take care of the present and look toward the future. In the short run we need to minimize the pain, in the medium run we transform the world. What will win the struggle?

* “ (R )evolution is a new beginning. It is not to prove our analysis is right. ” (Grace Lee Boggs)

* “In uncertainty there is hope.” (Grace Lee Boggs)

* We don’t need to capture the state we need to change the paradigm. Those who capture the state become prisoners of the state.

* A real revolution is an advancement in the concept of what it means to be human.

* Anger is real and vital but you can’t sustain a life built on anger as its sole foundation.

After this workshop is over I head over to one on Accompaniment. Panelist from ISM, PBI, CPT and FOR will speak. After some confusion about room assignment it turns out there are only 2 of us there, so we move the workshop outside onto a grassy spot and turn it into an organizers meeting ; discussing ways our groups can support one another etc. It was wonderful and productive and good to be with others who are doing this work I love so much!

Another spontaneous, “on the fly” training, a check-in with the team at tent city and the day wraps up with a good (if late) dinner at a local Middle Eastern restaurant.

Another World is happening; 2 days at the USSF

Tue. 6/22/10

It is so exciting that the USSF is being held in Detroit. I LOVE this city. I forget how much I love this city because I really don’t like driving to or around this city – causing me to come less often than I might. Yet, once here I remember that I love it.

And I know (although not as much as I should) the rich movement history of this city. A great example of the social forum theme “another world is possible”, Detroit is a strong center of resistance and resilience. As Grace Lee Boggs , an amazing organizer and movement elder says “with all that’s happened to the city we continue to re-create, re-vision, re-imagine. We come back with something new.”

The day started off at Tent City where we have planned a short nonviolence training. We arrive to find folks busy at work. A delay in permits from the city created a late start and the impressive thunder storm and downpour the night before left campers busy with set up and repairs. Flexibility is key in a peace team and taking in the situation we realize it is best to reschedule the training and head over to Cobo Hall to register. The line is long, but moves quickly as we visit with old friends, new acquaintances, and other USSF participants.

A young man walks by with a guitar singing union songs. “Solidarity Forever” he sings as he walks near-by and Kim and I join in. Yeah for the music! We need music in our movement. I see ghosts of union organizers and think of strikes and struggles past and present, I am again am struck by the rich history of Detroit. “We will build a new world from the ashes of the old,” we sing — Yes, Yes, we will.

All registered I am sitting in a grassy corner with a friend waiting for our ride over to do an orientation for the Peace Team that we’ve been asked to place at the opening march. It is hot, and the sun is strong. Sunburned from the 3 days of peace team work just prior to start of the USSF I am covered in zinc-oxide but still wishing for a wide brim hat when a man shows up from seemingly out of no where. “You ladies look like you need some shade” he says, have a hat.“ Handing my friend and I each a straw hat he disappears as suddenly as he had appeared.

Later, Inspired by an incredible opening march (see earlier post) I head back to tent city several others from Michigan Peace Team. We were invited by local organizers and many of those who biked in are not aware of who we are or what are role is. We pass our handouts explaining who we are and our role (see MPT post: http://mptatussocialforum.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-is-peace-team-who-is-mpt.html) , and try to find a balance between being “apart from” (respecting the space and community created and not inserting ourselves into it) and being friendly, approachable and not seen as lurking around the edges. I find this balance to be a challenge, yet it all seems to go okay.

The storm the night before meant most of the campers were busy drying out and setting back up and not in much of a “chatty” mood. We mostly position ourselves around the corners and near the showers – places where traffic is higher or where people might be more vulnerable. Our occasional “peace walks” through the camp meet with friendly “hellos” and as when our shift ends we head “home” to sleep – happy and exhausted after a long day.

Wed. 6/23/10

What a fun (and exhausting!) day.

We start off our AM with a short “check in” meeting of MPT folks. We talk about the workshops we want to attend for the day and I realize I am overwhelmed — with over 100 pages in the program book of amazing workshops how can I choose?

Realizing I have to immerse myself in the space in order to feel out where I should be I determine I’ll hop in a workshop a little late and head into the big room where display tables are set up.

After a preliminary look around I head towards a workshop and notice a group of young people sitting in a circle on the floor. As I go by I get caught up in their conversation and I find myself talking about MPT and our nonviolence training. “What do you do in the training?” they ask and suddenly I’m inspired THIS is what I want to do! “Let me show you” I respond and we spend the next 2+ hours sitting on the floor in the hallway in a spontaneous nonviolence training!

 The training is awash in laughter and everyone seems to be having fun. We do some continuum exercises and use the discussion from that to set the rest of the agenda. We practice listening and CLARA, do some role-plays, share our stories of nonviolence at work. I am energized! What a great way to spend the morning!

As the morning goes on I do this again just outside Cobo Hall with similar results. Afternoon has me speaking on a Panal discussion and another Nonviolence Training at Tent City.

As the night winds down I go to pick up a friend and catch the end of a concert that Word and World has organized at one of the churches hosting us. Inspired by the music and also the solidarity and hope in the room we end the day about 14 hours after we started – exhausted, happy, full of hope.

Another world IS not only possible – it is happening!

GFM reflections

Here I am again. Sitting before this blank computer screen barely able to put my fingers on the keys, holding my breath and wondering if this little lap top can possilby absorb all my grief and frustration or capture the bits and pieces of thoughts that are flying through my head.

How can it? How can I?

 Grief, gratitude, frustration, friendship, determination, powerful, powerless…my trip to Cairo for the Gaza Freedom March was surreal, and weeks beyond my return the only word that comes quickly to mind as a description is intense.

 I have talked and written about the siege and blockade of Gaza. As noted in an earlier post, to talk about it in the abstract is one thing, but to actually come to Egypt and find that Gaza is harder to visit than a prison is something else. Not only did Egypt revoke permission for us to enter Gaza through Rafah, but they also kept us from even getting close to the border. Buses hired to take all the marchers to Gaza were prevented from showing up, and small groups who tried to get to Gaza on their own were stopped and turned back, or put out along the way. Unable to get to Gaza, the nearly 1400 GFM delegates spent our time on the streets of Cairo, figuring if we couldn’t get to Gaza we might bring Gaza to the streets of Cairo and the attention of the world – gathering in nonviolent protest throughout the week. We were met with Egypt’s military and riot police at every event we organized. At one point, we were under what was essentially house arrest – not allowed to leave our hotel and our phones were blocked. Our short stint with house arrest was not the only time our phones were blocked. With phones blocked , no internet in the hotel and gatherings of over 6 people illegal we found ourselves literally cut of from communicaiotion for hours at a time.

 Not that we didn’t gather. We did.

The Egyptian government made it clear they did not want us to protest in Cairo,to be visible on the streets, to be interviewed by the press, to interact with Egyptians. We did all that. Every event was met with Egypt’s military and riot police. We were followed by Egyptian secret service everywhere. At times the days and events all run together. Daily breifings in the lobby of the various hotels were followed by protests at key spaces throughout the city: the UN building, the consulates of the various countries represented, the Israeli consulate, etc.

Yes, at times the events all run together and I seem to have lost any sense of a linear time line. And yet specific moments stick out.

Our rally at the World Trade Center Building – home of the UN (yes, really.) MPT members stood upon the small wall of a raised flower bed type structure with others holding a Palestinian Flag and a Banner “Women of the world say Free Gaza”….signing, dancing, chanting and being with others who claimed space in front of the UN delcaring it to be the Gaza Embassy. Quickly surrounded by Egyptian riot police who told us to get down, while smiling and quietly thanking us for being there as they shuffled their own feet to make room for ours atop the small planter wall. Until the order was given. On command the young men pushed us backward roughly. Several in the crowd responded with loud voices and expressive gestures. Quickly things started to escalate – particularly between the soldiers and a group of young Italians. With nothing more than the briefest of eye contact our MPT affinity moved from the role of demonstrator to the role of violence reduction peace team in a moment. Placing ourselves between the line of riot police and the rest of the demonstrators. Joking w/ the Italians and prompting anohter round of “Bella Chao”. Talking with the soldiers sharing protest songs, children’s songs and other folk tunes. Laughing at the commonalities and differences. Each time a group of the young men would start to get too friendly they’d be replaced by a “fresh group” who would initially tell us they didn’t speak english – only to shortly thereafter be trading songs and language lessons.

Another memorable moment was the US embassy. Riot police, K9 units. Penned in from the moment we showed up. We’d heard of several other delegations who have had successful meetings with their embassies, most notably the French. For several days, the French had camped out at their embassy and been joined by their ambassador and embassy staff who have stood with them in solidarity. While not expecting the same reception, I did think they would at least attempt to maintain the illusion by sending some low level person out to smile and pretend to listen to our concerns. HA — was I wrong!!! When access to our embassy was denied, the Americans linked arms in groups of threes and marched to the gate where they held up their passports. Within a couple of minutes, one of the Americans was on the other side of the fence and on the ground. She yelled for help as she was surrounded by a large group of Eqyptian Security personnel. GFM delegates surrounded her as well “pulling” her back from the security personnel. Egyptian plain clothes police, uniformed police, and riot police as well as numerous Egyptian “security” officials continued to grow in number— along with an American K9 unit. Kim and I were able to document the situation although, at several points we were warned not to photograph or take notes. And on more than one instance security threatened to or tried to take our cameras away. Since, this area is recessed and not too visible from the street, Kim and I decided to continue observing from the sidewalk in front of the area where the Americans were being detained. We felt it was important both to see and be seen, and the sidewalk gave us a good vantage point. Almost immediately, we were ordered to move off the sidewalk by one of the security personnel who demanded that we reenter the recessed area and join the others who were being barricaded. It was so odd and surreal. If I wrote a role play like this no one would believe it was realistic. The plain clothes and uniformed security were literally telling us “go in the pen”. There were two other American women, including one who walks with a cane, who were seated on the sidewalk. Plainclothes security forces, led by a man who identified himself to me as Mr. Sieead physically shoved one of the woman and shouted at her. As this occurred, Kim and I moved in between her and the men who were shoving her. Almost immediately, a police van arrived and we found ourselves ringed and barricaded by the metal barricades and a group of about 20 policemen. Again, most of the young conscripts seemed to have their hearts with us – singing “we shall overcome” and giving thumbs up out of the eyes of those in command. But the plain clothes security and those who seemed to obviously be in positions of power were less sympathetic to us. While we continued to document and attempt to photograph “Mr Sieed” grabbed my hand that held my camera squeezing painfully until my hand was red and sore. He quickly pulled his hand away as I maneuvered my camera into my pocket.

Still, even with this I know we were treated w/ “kid gloves.“ We observed a young man who appeared to be of Arab ancestry shoved and screamed at by “Mr. Saieed“. who then directed a group of security officers to pick the man up and hurl him over the barricaide to the ground Kim and I remained in this position for about two hours, observing, documenting and holding the space. It should be noted that while the woman with the cane was being treated roughly, a man in shirt and tie who appeared to be American or European simply looked on. When the other MPT members arrived, they were ordered away from the area where the others were being barricaded. Crossing the street, they were met by a group of plainclothes officials, including “Mr. Saieed“, who screamed at the team and then roughly pushed Yusif down the street.

And yet, while we found Egypt to be a police state that met us with blocked phones, riot police, and revoked permits we found the citizens of Egypt to be warm and friendly. I felt safe walking among the Egyptian people on the streets of Cairo even late at night -there is hardly any crime in this incredibly crowded and busy city of open markets.

 Most of the Egyptian citizens we spoke with support Palestinians and like the people of the US. They expressed an initial excitement about President Obama and were impressed with his talk in Egypt. They, like many of us here in the US wished the reality of his presidency was living up to the hope.

We could relate to a a disdain for our governments foreign policy with Israel regarding Gaza and the West Bank. I am so …. so, so what .. words feel, angry, sad, distressed… not even sure what the word is – so grieved to know that our government, our tax dollars support the blockade on Gaza. To see this year’s foreign aid, see http://www.aidtoisrael.org/. US foreign aid to Israel was over $2.4 billion dollars and Egypt $1.7 billion in 2007 http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3255291,00.html Another good resource for this information, http://www.ifamericansknew.org

One of the most upsetting things is the U.S.direct involvement in the plans underway to seal off the tunnels across the border to Rafah http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/01/17-1. While weapons have been smuggled through the tunnels – and I obviously don’t support that. These tunnels are also the main avenue for bringing in supplies of food, medicine, replacement parts for medical equipment, and supplies to rebuild the infrastructure and sewage system destroyed by the continuing bombing and siege.

 I would like to find out why these much needed supplies and goods are not allowed across the border. I never was able to get an answer, just the “security” rhetoric. But, I tend to believe the reports of NFOs and INGOs regarding the humanitarian crisis in Gaza more than the empires who have a political interest in the area: namely oIsrael and the United States. According to groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others the food that is allowed in is not enough to meet the demands of 1.5 million people living in Gaza. Malnutrition is high and growing, children go without basic school supplies, and many go without the medical care they need. The humanitarian crisis has led to raw sewage being routed into the Mediterranean Sea due to Israel’s refusal to let materials to fix the infrastructure through the border.

If the blockade was truely about security and not vengful punishment it seems to me these basic humanitarian supplies would be let in.

And yet – mixed in with the despair, the anger, the grief and frustration is gratitude and hope.

It was amazing to be in solidarity with the over 1,400 international human rights activists from over 42 different countries – working together to break the seige. I found hope knowing we joined in solidarity also with our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters who gathered on the other side of the Gaza border.

And while the tactic of allowing only 100 of the GFM delegates in seemed clearly designed to break the solidarity I am nontheless grateful for the eye witness reports of those delegates. Such inspiring, sad, stories:

* One of the organizers noted she has been there 4X since March and every time it is more intense. Every time more and more surrounded by Hamas. Every time more evidence of a police state emerging

* “Every bottle of water we drank. Every piece of TP we used. Every everything was brought in through those tunnels. It is the only way.”

* Every person noted with awe the Palestinians resiliance, their ability to still love, forgive and have hope in all this. They also noted the ingenuity.

* Women met w/ a group of Gazan women who’s husbands were killed in operation cast lead. “We do not want/need your charity. WE need your solidarity and your help to have us help ourselves. We neeed sewing machines, we can raise rabbits, chickens”

* Many many spoke about the rabbi’s. 4 Rabbies who tried to get to Al Arish themselves and were left along the way. The GFM bus literally picked them up from the street in the middle of no where. At first the children in Gaza were afraid of them. They didn’t understand or recognize thier closhes, thier hats, their long beards and ringlets etc. But they soon won everyone’s hearts and were the stars. They said “Judism has been hijacked by Zionism. We all lived in peace together before and we can do so again.”

* One woman spoke of pictures drawn by school children and spoke of a girl around 10 who drew and bright eye with tears of blood.

* a man spoke about being shown a box w/ what looked like cement pieces it was actually sand. It was the sand that contained the blood of the father

* Palestinians have kept their dignity under the cruelty of occupation and collective punishment sometimes refusing money saying “We can provide for ourselves. We want the siege and the occupation to end. Money cannot buy freedom.”

And yet in the midst of all the the anger, pain, frustration and grief there is gratitude and hope.

I am beyond grateful for my MPT affinity team and our ability to work together in challenging and changing circumstances. Dorothy, Kim, Bella, Liz and Yusif were wondeful partners and I felt no matter what happened we would be there for each other. Nightly we had time where we could be present to one another, sharing our experiences and analizing events of the day — laughing together and often crying together.

The power of nonviolence continues to inspire me and give me hope. By keeping us in Cario the Egyptian government brought the attention of the media to us – stories in the New York Times, and multiple media sources. The Egyptian government seemed afraid of our protesting – of the truth expressed in words, music and art. Especially when the threat of military force and violence did not dissuade us from our mission to open the borders and go to Gaza.

I am glad for the chance to hold the Egyptian government and even more importantly my own government accountable for thier role in the blockade and seige. There is much work to be done.

Gaza Journal

 

Hello friends,

For now this is just a fingers to keyboard/ pen to paper journal. Thoughts, feelings, things I want to remember. Not much analysis or reflection. New postings at the bottom. I’ll do more when I get back in terms of some deeper reflection

25 Dec 2009

Some travel day news to share w/ you all…

As you may have heard, the Egyptian government has denied our request to go into Gaza and has cancelled our permits for our orientation at the College Holy Family for December 27 at 7pm. We are also told that gathers of 6 or more people (or maybe it is over 6 people – reports have been scattered) of any type are illegal. Either way, challenging laws is part of our work

And, we have come too far to “be tourists” as the Egyptian Government has suggested. Recognizing that our creativity and flexibility are one of our most powerful tools we are exploring new and exciting ways to get our message out and keep the pressure on!

The MPT team of 6 will meet up in Cairo and determine our next steps.
December 27

Today the plan was a simple commemoration of those killed in Gaza during operation Cast Lead.  In an effort to commemorate those killed in Gaza during the Israeli attack on Gaza, we were going to meet on the Nile River Corniche We were going to take feluccas (Nile river boats) onto the Nile and place 1400 lighted candles in bio degradable “boats” /baskets into the Nile that will then float down the river. That was the plan.

The Egyptian Govt. had other ideas. Our small group got there early and was almost immediately told to disperse. We didn’t. There were Egyptian Security from high officials on down. They would not let us down to the boats.  We refused to disperse, however, and a rally on the sidewalk parallel  to the Nile resulted. I have much I want to say about this but time is short. It is already not enough hours ‘til it is time to get up. For now a few misc. things:

      * Police did not want pictures taken or notes taken. Almost every time someone tried to take a picture the police would threaten to take the camera away. At one point I was taking notes and a plain clothes cop told me to stop. He reached out to take my notebook. I wouldn’t let him and at one point when he tried again I pretended not to understand and ripped out a piece of paper to hand it to him as though I thought he wanted to borrow it. When I went to offer my pen too he laughed a bit and looked away.

      * We held candles and walked but every few feet the police would stop us, but the crowd continued to grow and coalesced

     *Speaking on behalf of the marchers, Media Benjamin, one of the GFM planners stood aloft a concrete planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: “We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don’t event want to be in Egypt, ” she continued. “We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position.”

 * you may also want to check out http://starhawksblog.org/ Starhawk does a nice write up and you can even see a nice photo of Yusif – one of my team mates

We also learned more about the plans of  85 year old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein who will begin a hunger strike demanding that Egypt open the border. I may join that, I will have to see how I feel and what actions I may be doing over the next few days. Others who wish to fast in solidarity are welcome!

Throughout all we will keep attempting to cross into Gaza! This is where we need your support:

Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from us and our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed. ( I know, many of you called/emailed before! Thank you!! Please consider doing so again.)

Contact your local consulate here:
http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/mfa_websits/

Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email: ahmed.azzam@mfa.gov.eg

In the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email omaryoussef@hotmail.com

Thanks friends! (sample letter below)

In Peace and Solidarity
Sheri

* * Sample text **

I am writing/calling to express my full support for the December 31, 2009 Gaza Freedom March. I urge the Egyptian government to allow the 1,300 international delegates to enter the Gaza Strip through Egypt.

The aim of the march is to call on Israel to lift the siege. The delegates will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza.

Please, let this historic March proceed.
Thank you.

 

December (?) 28th

Hello friends,
Sorry it’s been so long. Both internet and phone access proved to be more challenging than we thought. We will post to the blog tonight or tomorrow including pictures! So please check, http://www.mptingaza.blogspot.com/ You might also want to check out code pink’s website/ http://gazafreedommarch.com/article.php?id=5022

Tomorrow early AM we will head out for another action. We will meet at the buses that we had planned to take to Gaza at that time. Unfortunately, the Egyptian Gov. has stopped the buses. We will see what unfolds. While our goal remains getting into Gaza we also know that we must use the nonviolent tools at our disposal to hold the Egyptian government accountable for their role in the illegal and immoral seige against the people of Gaza! 

Some smaller groups have attempted to go on thier own to Gaza. Egyptian security forces detained a group of 30 activists in their hotel in el-Arish as they prepared to leave for Gaza, placing them under house arrest. The delegates, all part of the Gaza Freedom March of 1,300 people, were Spanish, French, British, American, and Japanese. The Egyptian security forces eventually yielded, letting most of the marchers leave the hotel, but did not permit them to leave the town. When two younger delegates, a French and Japanese woman, attempted to leave el-Arish, the Egyptian authorities stopped their taxi and unloaded their luggage. Another group of eight people, including citizens from American, British, Spanish, Japanese and Greece, were detained at the bus station of Al Arish in the afternoon of December 27. As of 3:30 PM, they were still being held.

I think I have to end this for now. Very tired and more work to do. Please keep those calls, emails and faxes coming! I honestly beleive they can make a difference — and even if they do not convince the govt. to open the border it does let them know that people are watching which ultimatly helps keep us all a bit safer. More when I can.

Love, Sher

December 28

Some of this is a recap of what I’ve already written. But bear w/ me as the days are all a little running into each other… probably in part because there hasn’t been enough sleep to divide them. In any case – gonna try to catch up a bit.

Such days — it feels like I have been here for WEEKS instead of days. Ironic since I DON’T EVEN WANT TO BE HERE!! I WANT TO BE IN GAZA! But, beyond that…. where to begin?

After too brief a sleep, on my first night I woke to meet up w/ Yusif and Dorothy head over to one of the 3 hotels where most of the delegates are staying. Our big orientation meeting for that evening had been cancelled, its permit revoked. So we’re doing smaller briefings in hotels. This makes communication between delegates hard. And it seems to just keep getting worse. Any public gathering of over 6 is illegal and businesses are pressured not to help us. (The bus companies cancelled our buses due to pressure and fear of ramifications etc.) None the less we do what we can. Anyhow, briefings will happen each AM at this hotel and we thought it might be “the place” to hang out and see what the buzz is. It was.filled w/ activity. Activists were busy on lap tops doin’ the media work, banners being made, endless coffee and strategizing. I could have stayed much longer – totally in my element. But, I was also anxious to see my friends and team mates Kim and Liz who had gotten in even later than us the night before and were at the hotel sleeping.

Later, about a hundred people went out to the Kasr al Nil bridge around noon—the bridge to the large island in the middle of the Nile. They placed cards and flowers on the bridge to commemorate the more than 1300 Gazans who died in the Israeli assault that began a year ago today, on December 27, 2008. The police eventually showed up and ordered them off the bridge, but didn’t arrest anyone. I wasn’t there, but I heard it was pretty calm. The MPT team spent some time in a team meeting. This was a unique team and this was the fist time all of us had met face to face so we determined we needed to spend that time together.

Later, we attended an event that was also to commemorate those that were killed. The plan for was to meet at 4 pm down by the Nile and take feluccas, Nile river boats. From the boats we would place candles in biodegradable “boats” and float them down the river. Also, on the boats, we could meet in small groups and then converge later for a larger meeting. We got there right on time and were surprised not to see anyone. As soon as we paused in our walking however we found out why – When the team arrived we were immediately surrounded by Egyptian security forces and police officers who barred us from boarding the flotillas and closed down the rental place.

But we gathered, a group of a couple of hundred, which we had been clearly forbidden to do. As we gathered MPT members started to document w/ photos and notes. Almost every time we tired to take a photo we were told “no”. A plain closed police officer told me I was not allowed to take notes. He threatened to take my notebook. When he moved to grab it away I pulled it back. Acting confused , like I didn’t know what he meant I tore out a page and offered it to him with a pen – for taking his own notes. He laughed and the tension decreased

Medea Benjamin, one of the Code Pink organizers got up on a planter like thing and made a short speech. Speaking in short sentences so that those of us near-by could repeat them loudly amplifiying the sound. “Who here wants to take a boat on the Nile, like tourists do?” she asked. Everyone raised their hands. “Who here wants to go to Gaza?”The crowd began cheering and unfurling banners and chanting “Free Gaza!” She continued: planter and proclaimed, with the crowd repeating: “We are part of the Gaza Freedom March. We would like to take a boat on the Nile and place candles on the water in memory of the dead in Gaza. Unfortunately, the government of Egypt finds this action a threat. We are people of peace. We are not here to cause trouble for Egypt. We don’t event want to be in Egypt, ” she continued. “We would be happy to leave now for Gaza. We ask the government of Egypt to change its position”

We lit our candles in cups and held them up. There were people from all over the world in the crowd! The spirit was strong, and as more and more police arrived, everyone remained calm. I really felt like I was clearly in a group of seasoned and disaplined activists. The crowd began marching back down the riverside, and then the police threw up a cordon and blocked us in. The police seemed as if their hearts weren’t really in keeping us blocked in. Their barricade was simply them holding hands and they kept smiling. People lifted up their arms and ducked under and got out, and from time to time they opened up and let people out, without much rhyme nor reason.

MPT’s Yusif, was interviewed by several media outlets in both Arabic and English.

Was all that really only 2 days ago…. see now I am up to yesterday. But, I promised myself I would try to get to bed before 1 AM — sooooo , g’nt for now!

December 29th (I think)

So where am I at? 2 days ago…The morning was a never ending play of frustration. Looking for meetings only to get there and find they had been changed. Or asking a dozen people for directions all of them sending us in the wrong way … walking several miles around Cairo. Finally we gave the morning up and Determined to be a the Protest at the World Trade Center Building where the UN is housed (yes, really. that is what it is called.) at noon.

After lots more walking we got there to find a spirited crowd of around 300 had gathered. The UN was declared the ” Gaza Embassy”, the Italians were leading us in energized rounds of Bella Ciao  and people were signing, dancing, drumming. Dorothy, Liz, Kim and I were immediately welcomed to stand up on top of a short wall around a raised garden w/ a banner reading “Free Gaza” by a group of women.

We hoped up on the concrete planter wall a few feet in the air and clapped and danced along w/ the singing and drumming. How can you not clap and dance and grin when the Italians are singing Bella Ciao? Between rounds of signing and chanting we’d talk w/ folks around us. It feet good. We had nonviolently claimed some space – and here that has proven to be difficult task.

Egyptian police were there – but mostly in plain clothes and it all was going well. But apparently our elevated space on the planter was too visable. We were repeatedly told to get down.

 Do I even need to say we didn’t?

This went on for some bit when the police stepped up on the planter with us. These are mostly young men. Their hearts clearly with us, and struggling with their  role. Even as he told me to move the guy telling me to get down made space for my feet around his. Under his breath and out of the ears of his superiors he chanted “free gaza” along with us.

The young guys on the front lines are conscripts just doing their time and the truth seems clear that their hearts are with us. They seemed to struggle with their role.

The higher ups seem to be struggling less. On their command we were suddenly and roughly/forcefully pushed from the planter.

Things started escalating fast and me and my MPT team switched immediatly and instintively from role of demonstrator to peace team. Doing what we could to calm both the demonstrators and the police. I found myself in a line w/ Liz, Kim, and Dorothy from MPT and Starhawk, and for a bit former MPT team member Will.

One of the GFM started kicking the police and Liz stepped in to stop her. Reminding her of why we are there and our commitment and all. The Italians were… well, being loud and spirited and, well –  Italian and while some of us were comfortable w/ that others not so much so  and for a short time s it looked like we might be detained . Still, I realized this felt good. I am in my element up against a line of riot police, or between angry people somehow getting in the way.

Dorothy took our cameras and such and moved back to a less arrestable spot as planned. Yet we kept connected checking in w/ eye and hand gestures. In hind site she probably didn’t need to head out. Things deescalated quickly

Those of us “on the line”  joked and traded songs with the young Egyptian soldiers and I think they were teaching Starhawk to count in Arabic. They laughed with us when ever their higher ups looked the other way and from time to time would point to our “Free Gaza” signs and give the thumbs up.

There was a group of women near us who have worked w/ rageing grannies and they made up songs the soldiers would join us in singing.

I told them I was sorry their government put them in such a horrible position. That here they had to stop us from expressing our solidarity when I know thier hearts were truely with the people of Gaza. I told them I was sorry they felt they had to push us and maybe hurt us.  One young man’s eyes welled up w/ tears and he quickly looked away.

This went on for sometime and once it was clear things were calm we left to head back to the hotel. We planned for an early night but somehow that never materialized. Although at this moment I can no longer remember why.  I think it was because we all started to realize we prob. Won’t get into Gaza and we needed time to debrief with each other, to grieve and to cry. To be so close and still know we can’t seem to get there. It is …. I can’t even begin to describe.

More in a few days. In the meantime don’t forget to check http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/

Hugs,sher

30 December

Dear friends,
Here is an attempt at a report from December 29. I think that was yesterday, it is all a blur. Our team meeting the night before revealed we needed to do a variety of “housekeeping stuff” as a team. Liz and Yusif graciously agreed to take out cell phones to have them fixed while Dorothy and Bella went to do some report writing and blogging. (Check it out at  http://mptingaza.blogspot.com ). Kim and I would attend the briefings and meetings at the Lotus hotel and then we’d all connect at the US Embassy.

So, after an early morning of meetings to get filled in on the latest developments in the ever changing plans and to engage in some group problem solving about what the Gaza Freedom Movement (GFM) could and should do next Kim and I joined up with 2 of the GFM organizers to head toward the US embassy. We approached the gate and were told we had to use another entrance, walking around we were given the same response at a 2nd gate. Finally we ended up at the gate in a small recessed area along a busy street that runs along the Nile river.

We approached the gate and simply held up our passports prepared to just walk through “we are US citizens, and are going to see our ambassador. ” We were stopped and told we could not go in. Alternately the reason was given “you cannot go in” or “the embassy is closed”. A few more people arrived (still just a handful ) and barricades were put up in front of us and Egyptian security (police, plain clothes police and some who identified themselves to me as “private security” came out to stand in front of us.

As more and more of us continued to gather the ever present metal barricades that had moments ago been just in front of us  were placed both in front of us and behind us “blockading” us in. We continued to insist we see our embassy staff – holding up our passports and alternately singing, chanting and simply talking to those trying to stop us.

Many of the other delegates have reported having good meetings at their Embassies  and while I didn’t expect the US to really care I did think they would at least attempt to maintain the illusion by sending some low level person out to smile and pretend to listen to our concerns. HA — was I wrong!!!

When access to our embassy was denied, the Americans linked arms in groups of threes and marched to the gate where they held up their passports. Within a couple of minutes, one of the Americans was on the other side of the fence and on the ground. She yelled for help as she was surrounded by a large group of Eqyptian Security personnel.  GFM delegates surrounded her as well “pulling” her back from the security personnel.

Egyptian plain clothes police, uniformed police, and riot police as well as numerous Egyptian “security” officials continued to grow in number— along with an American K9 unit — complete w/ 2 German Shepherds.

Kim and I were able to document the situation although, at several points we were warned not to photograph or take notes. And on more than one instance security threatened to or tried to take our cameras away.

Since, as I said, this area is recessed and not too visible from the street, Kim and I decided to continue observing from the sidewalk in front of the area where the Americans were being detained. We felt it was important both to see and be seen, and the sidewalk gave them a good vantage point. Besides we still had not reconnected with the rest of the affinity team who as due to meet us there and we figured being out front would make it easier for them to see us.

Almost immediately, we were ordered to move off the sidewalk by one of the security personnel who demanded that we reenter the recessed area and join the others who were being barricaded. It was so odd and surreal. If I wrote a role play like this no one would believe it was realistic. The plain clothes and uniformed security were literally telling us “go in the pen”. 

There were two other American women, including one who walks with a cane, who were seated on the sidewalk. Plainclothes security forces, led by a man who identified himself to me as Mr. Sieead  physically shoved one of the woman and shouted at her. As this occurred, Kim and I  moved in between her and the men who were shoving her. Almost immediately, a police van arrived and we found ourselves ringed and barricaded by the metal barricades and a group of about 20 policemen.

Again, most of the young conscripts seemed to have their hearts with us – singing “we shall overcome” and giving thumbs up out of the eyes of those in command. But the plain clothes security and those who seemed to obviously be in positions of power were less sympathetic to us. While we continued to document and attempt to photograph “Mr Sieed” grabbed my hand that held my camera squeezing painfully until my hand was red and sore. He quickly pulled his hand away as I maneuvered my camera into my pocket.

Still, even with this I know we were treated w/ “kid gloves.“ We observed a young man who appeared to be of Arab ancestry shoved and screamed at by “Mr. Saieed“. who then directed a group of security officers to pick the man up and hurl him over the barricaide to the ground

Kim and I remained in this position for about two hours, observing, documenting and holding the space.   It should be noted that while the woman with the cane was being treated roughly, a man in shirt and tie who appeared to be American or European simply looked on.

When the other MPT members arrived, they were ordered away from the area where the others were being barricaded. Crossing the street, they were met by a group of plainclothes officials, including “Mr. Saieed“, who screamed at the team and then roughly pushed Yusif down the street.

Kim and I had decided to join Hedy Epstein and others in fasting and the team had agreed to go to the press conference that was rapidly approaching. Since, by this time, it appeared that the situation was relatively calm outside the embassy, notwithstanding the number of law enforcement and government personnel milling around Kim and I consulted with others being held to assure they felt okay with out leaving .  With their support we negotiated a release, but left wondering why a desire to visit one’s embassy would prompt such a response, especially when other internationals were graciously received by their embassies?

See the MPT blog www.mptingaza.blogspot.com for a more detailed “what went down” listing of what happened next. It is again late and I have had about 8 hours sleep over the last 3 days combined. I am tired, I am hungry and tomorrow is a big day. (is any day here not a big day?)

For now let me just say:

* Isn’t the US embassy considered American soil? What does it mean to have Egyptian police on US soil barricading US citizens , stopping them from seeing thier ambassadors, and at times being very very rough! (pushing, shoving, grabbing arms — yelling in the face of.)

* There is no doubt that this is a dictatorship and a police state. Everywhere we go we are fenced in. Everywhere we turn they stop us (or attempt to stop us) from gathering. I feel like I can’t move. My creativity feels as restricted as our movement. And I can’t remember ever feeling so helpless and hopeless. If , as Kim says, there is any grace from this it is that I have a small taste and understanding of how the Palestinians live.

* I really really do NOT like Egypt right now

* I really really do NOT like the US right now

* As I noted Most of the police we encounter are young, their hearts already seem to be with us. When thier superiors are not looking they laugh and joke and sing “we shall overcome” right along with us. They point to our “free Gaza” T-shirts and pins and give the thumbs up and whisper “free gaza” under thier breath. The higher ups -not so much so. Have seen some really mean people who seem like… while I don’t like to use the word evil when talking about people. I think it is rarely (ever?) true. But … it is the only word that comes to mind.

Good night friends, I prob. won’t post tomorrow. Remember no news is good news. Thanks for all your support!

In solidarity and struggle, Sheri

31 December

After the last few days I guess the team really needed to debrief and process a bit together. Long long after our nightly team meeting Kim, Bella, Dorothy and I sat around talking and laughing. Really really LAUGHING and at times crying.

Somewhere in the wee hours of the AM we got an email on Bella’s crackberry — a group from the women’s contingent had been able to meet w/ representatives for President Mubarak’s wife (maybe even w/ her? ) and had negotiated that 100 people could go to Gaza along with all the supplies we had brought. The organizers had about 2 hours to present them w/ the list of who would be going.

Now mind you — here we are in Cairo. Communication is HARD. They block us from gathering, navigating the streets is challenging and asking for directions seems sure to alert the authorities to where we were going — bringing company as soon as you step out of the cab or to walk w/ you along the way.

While many of the GFM have phones now we don’t yet all have each other’s numbers and you cannot guarentee people have access to the internet. So – I am sure they did not think the organizers could pull that off. None the less at 3:30 AM a list was released. Priority was given to journalists, those of Palestinian descent, those who haven’t been in the last 4 years, and there was a strong attempt to have folks from all 42 countries represented here. Yusif was on the list! We quickly called up to his room to wake him. No luck. We raced upstairs to pound on his door and finally used the hotel phone to call his room phone. The bus was meeting at 7:00 AM! He had just a few hours to get ready and we had to also determine how that impacted our plans for the next day. A few minutes of joyous celebration and the team went inot “prep mode” — who would make what calls, getting out a press release etc. After a bit we left him to have a moment to center himself and finish packing w/ the promise to meet him in the AM for a send off.

Ahh.. and hour nap.

We got to the bus station and at first all seemed like a subdued but happy send off. Yusif got on the bus to assure himself a seat upfront on one of the buses w/ a bathroom. Liz helped facilitate the loading of supplies and the rest of us buzzed about taking photos and hugging new friends. Then the tenor changed. People started to shout about the divisiveness of us not all going. Several people spoke and explained that they were not going even though they were choosen. The decsion to break us apart was wrong. The speaking went from those like Hedy Epstein who explained why she wouldn’t go but also spoke about folks needing to follow thier conscious to those who spoke harshly about those who were on the bus.

Not all were so understanding. Many spoke with angry voices. Code pink organizers said they made a mistake in accepting the offer. There was confusion and mixed messages. Gazans still wanted us to come. Gazans didn’t want us to come. What to believe.

We called Yusif on the bus. He was safe, wasn’t leaving. We were feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the scene . People — “my people” were acting horribly! Shaming those who were going. I felt betrayed. Yet, I also understood their points about solidarity and such. Then we heard that the Egyptian government angry about the deal had put the following spin on it. “The 100 people on the bus were choosen by the gov’t since they are the only ones here truly nonviolent. The rest of us are the troublemakers, “hooligans” and were denied.

As the scene continued to decline we again called Yusif. He was sad and angry about what was happening and but was not gonna get off that bus. I support that. We all thought the buses would be leaving any moment so we determined we’d head back to the hotel. Yusif felt good about that.

I wondered a bit about staying around to help calm the situation down. Do that peace team thing as we do. And leaving was one of the hardest decisions I made there. Maybe the hardest.  I know we could have been helpful.  But, I didn’t feel grounded and centered enough to calm anyone down.

Beyond that I didn’t feel at all hungry, tired or dehydtrated and after fasting for a couple of days, very very little sleep, and I know not enough water (I am doing better today — no worries!) I knew I should be! So, I was not trusting my ability to be in touch w/ my own body and needs. I wasn’t trusting my own instincts. I rely on my instincts in this work. If I can’t trust them it is dangerous.  So we left. It was really really really hard!!! But, I know I am here with some of the most skilled and creative organizers around and I needed to trust….

I guess after we left it all got much worse

From what we heard was a madhouse. People were weeping on the busses, others were crying “Shame! Shame!” at those who boarded. Some were bounding on the buses and calling those inside “traitor”. Yusif said that inside the bus it was also a mess. People weren’t sure what to do. Some were getting off the bus, then back on, then off again. Father Louis Vitale, the priest from San Francisco who has been arrested hundreds of times doing civil disobedience actions, got on, got off, got on again, and finally got off for good. Our friend David Hartsough did the same –ending up on the bus. Another friend, John Dear ended up not going after also getting on and off

As the bus went to leave people surrounded it and would not let it out. In an ironic and sick turn of events the bus needed a police escort to lead them out.

Those behind were encouraged to attend nonviolence training and be prepared for a large march today in solidarity with the march in Gaza. Our team spent hours in prayerful disernment about what to do. It felt like every move we made would look like a political statement. How could we support the decision of our dear friend Yusif yet still support the goal of those who stayed behind? And most importantly how do we keep the focus where it belongs – on Gaza.

There is more, but I cannot really capture it just yet.

We put a plan in place, headed to the internet cafe and promised each other we would all be in bed by midnight for a long day in the AM. I’ll write more about the plans – but it will have to wait.  Don’t want it “out there” public just yet.

(We made it to bed by 1:00 — not too bad). An early AM found us stuck in our hotel. While 2 team were able to make it out early early the other 3 of us planned to join them shortly after.

Unfortunately the police had a different idea. We found our doorway blockaded by “paddy wagons” and security, plain clothes, and Egyptian police. 5 uniformed police and several others were blocking the door, and not letting people out. When we saw them being served tea, coffee and food we knew we’d be stuck awhile and hunkered down.

It was fine in the sense we were safe and well. But soooooooo unfine in so many many ways. Can you imagine going to leave your hotel and not being able to? We also found suddenly none of our phone worked. Really, even the US phones. We could call no one, we could not get calls. This sounds so paranoid and surreal as I type it! I can barely believe it and I just lived it. But I assure you it was very real.

Once communiction was back, We learned others were in the same situation. After some brainstorming we have come up with a plan for today and a few back up plans…..

After about 2 hours we found we were allowed out. We came to the internet cafe to get some news on how others are doing and revamp plans for today. More when I can…

As always, thanks for all your support.

In Peace for Justice, Sher

 

1 Jan 2010

Happy New Year everyone!

Yesterday when I emailed I mentioned 2 of our team members had left the hotel before we got blocked in, but I didn’t want to say more in order not to jeprodize thier trip. Early early AM Liz and Dorothy set of for the bus station. Thier goal was to buy 5 tickets to Al Arish. With Yusif in Gaza we thought we’d try to go join him! Or …. really to go and hold vigil in Rafah Egypt. It seemed appropriate to go into the desert, to try to hold the space between those from Gaza Freedom March in Cairo and Gaza Freedom March in Gaza and in doing so to hold that tension. I don’t know if that makes sence if you are not here. But it just felt right.

So – Dorothy and Liz headed our to buy tickets with the idea that Kim, Bella and I would do some work getting some reports up etc. and would then meet up with them at the bus station. Of course, It is what we came to do. With full team consultation via phone we decieded that Dorothy and Liz would continue on as best they could and that Kim and I would stay here — scout the city and provide help, support and observation/monitoring work as needed. Bella would remain in the hotel acting as “home base” and being support should Kim and I get caught up in a sweep, detained or who knows what.

Kim and I noticed right away that we would not go more than 2 blocks without people watching us, taking notes, and calling someoone. It seemed as if they were calling to say what direction we were headed. We determined our safest way to scout was to play the role of tourist…. casually meandering from window to window, stopping in a park for a bit – while walking past the areas we thought people might be gathered on the way to the Egyptian Museum where we knew 200-300 people were holding space.

We had received word earlier that the March had not occured. Most of the hotels where activists were staying were blockaded in the AM, essentially puting people under “house arrrest”. In spite of this we also had heard that several hundered people had gotten out and were protesting in front of the Egyptian Museum. We also heard rumors of smaller gatherings scattered around the city as people were able. Hence our scouting.

We never made it to the Egyptian Museum. I have heard rumors of both police beating people, and that things were similar to many of our other events here. I am not sure what truely happened. The protest did breakup after about 6 hours. (So even if we got there it might have been over.)

What was interesting was noticing the difference in the city. Before yesterday people would invite us in to thier shops, talk with us etc. Yesterday that was simply not true. One young man told us to leave. Liz and Dorthothy reported the same experience in one of the bus station shops. The Egyptian Government has been engagaing in a campaign of lies and misinformation. It was put out in the newspaper that those who were allowed to go into Gaza are the only “good”/”truely nonviolent” people who came. The rest of us are (I kid you not…) ” Hooligans” here to cause trouble. While it does not seem most of the people believe that it seems very evident that they know we are being watched and that they have been intimidated and threatened if they help us.

Crime is very low in Cairo. Yet, I confess I have never felt really safe and secure here. That feeling of always being watched. We get in a taxi and the “tourism police” or some other police type official is immediately there asking the driver where he is taking us, and writtting down his licence number. I am not exagerating when I say Kim and I did not go 2 blocks w/out someone taking note of us and passing it along. (And we were walking in a group of 2 )

The repression is omnipresent and woven into the fabric of daily life.

After walking around many hours and a crazy number of miles we determined that there was nothing at any of the “likely spots” (the Israeli embassy, the US embassy, the UN, the government….) That seemed important to me to check as given how fractured we have become smaller protests might be isolated and really in need of support. We were sad we had not made it to “the big” protest at the museum but figured it was likley over and headed home.

How ironic that New Year’s eve was my earliest night yet. In bed by 12:30! And… I slept ’til 8:00!!! Ya’ll know that is crazy late for me!

The team all headed over to the Lotus hotel this AM and connected with folks there. After that Bella and Liz headed back to the hotel while Kim, Dorothy and I attended a pressconference for those of us who have been fasting. While it only lasted 1/2 hr. — 1 hour it was an incredibly powerful and nonviolent witness to our work and brought the focus back to Gaza and to Palestine.

We all sat on the steps of the journalist syndiate building and read a unified statment from those fasting http://mptingaza.blogspot.com/ in several languages, sang “we shall overcome” and a few people made personal statements. Most were great!

We hope to attend some closing “meetings” tonight for evaluation, reflecton, next steps etc. So hopefully, a calm and easy night. It’s hard to know. Here in Cairo everything you do seems to become an action in and of itself. Tomorrow is the day that Yusif returns from Gaza. I am so looking forward to hearing his news!!!! It is also the day I would have returned from Gaza to Egypt. The plan at that time was to then spend a few days in and around Egypt. I am mean it’s Egypt. So much to see. Only, I confess I am sick of Egypt. I just want to come home. I don’t want to spend my money or my time in this police state being a tourist after this week stuck here.

Dorothy, Bella and I planned to do this and then to fly out together. We will talk tonight and see if we are in agreement about changing our tickets — and further IF I can change my ticket. (The last 2 times I have tried I have not been allowed since I was told I am on “airport security” — then again the Egyptian gov’t might be just as happy to see us go at this point.

(Laurel, I’ll let you know!)

Thanks dear friends for all your love and support! Your encouraging emails, notes on FB and such have really helped. I hope in the days after I get back to do some relfecting and analysis on all we saw.

In solidarity and struggle.

Sher

2 Jan 2010

Dear friends,
This will most likely be my last report from Egypt. (Though I will send a note when I get home.) With the Gaza Freedom March officially at the end Kim and I broke our fast this AM. Dorothy, who had joined us in solidarity on our last day broke her fast as well. We had a team meeting and then a play day. I wasn’t sure I was up to it, but it seemed important to me to see some of the beauty in this country too before we leave.

It was great! Really fun. I felt I could breath easier, and weight was off me as soon as we left the city! We saw the pyramids, Bella and I rode camels, and we went to a huge suc (outdoor market). Not much money to buy – but wonderful to wander around, people watch, drink coffee and take it all in!

On the way back to the hotel we got a call from Yusif! He is back in Egypt -though still several hours from Cairo. I am so very much looking forward to seeing him and hearing all his news!!!!!

After a short rest, the 5 of us had a wonderful dinner together!

I still very much hope that we can work it out to leave early!! But, we shall see. In any case, I look forward to being home!

Love, love, love, Sher

Sunday 1/3

Hello my friends,
I started typing this once but the computer had a little glitch and all went away! Ug. Of course, being all emotional I hadn’t saved anything. Grrrr….. hate it when my own stupidity gets in the way…

In any case, after an early AM at the internet cafe Kim and I joined the rest of the team — including Yusif (who got back late last night) for breakfast. We then all headed over to hear the report out from those that had been in Gaza. There will be a more detailed report on the MPT blog soon http://mptingaza.blogspot.com but for now I just wanted to give you some of the things that stuck out for me: (These are just things that ressonated w/ me. They are not confirmed nor have I done any fact checking – yet I trust the intent, perception and heart of those who went.)

* 90 went

* One of the organizers noted she has been there 4X since March and every time it is more intense. Every time more and more surrounded by Hamas. Every time more evidence of a police state emerging

* “Every bottle of water we drank. Every piece of TP we used. Every everything was brought in through those tunnels. It is the only way.”

* Every person noted with awe the Palestinians resiliance, their ability to still love, forgive and have hope in all this. They also noted the ingenuity.

* MPT friend and NP co-founder David Hartsough noted that 61 years ago his dad worked in Gaza in a refugee camp.He met a man who worked w/ his father. 61 years later they still are refugees”

* Women met w/ a group of Gazan women who’s husbands were killed in operation cast lead. “We do not want/need your charity. WE need your solidarity and your help to have us help ourselves. We neeed sewing machines, we can raise rabbits, chickens”

* “What happened in Gaza was a march, a protest, and was imporatant and good for what it was, but it was not the Gaza Freedom March. The Gaza Freedom March has yet to happen. We will end the seige.”

* Many many spoke about the rabbi’s. 4 Rabbies who tried to get to Al Arish themselves and were left along the way. The GFM bus literally picked them up from the street in the middle of no where. At first the children in Gaza were afraid of them. They didn’t understand or recognize thier closhes, thier hats, their long beards and ringlets etc. But they soon won everyone’s hearts and were the stars. They said “Judism has been hijacked by Zionism. We all lived in peace together before and we can do so again.”

* One woman spoke of pictures drawn by school children and spoke of a girl around 10 who drew and bright eye with tears of blood.

* some spoke of a Hamas crackdown on the arts/artists and how it is getting worse and worse for women. Women were not allowed to March.

* a man spoke about being shown a box w/ what looked like cement pieces it was actually sand. It was the sand that contained the blood of the father

* Women in Gaza spoke about the difficulty in living under Hamas.

* Need for the end of Isolation

There is so so much more. But team members are ready to go back to the hotel and some are heading out tonight. Turns out our work here is not done (so I won’t be back early). Tomorrow some in the Egyptian civil society have asked for some international support and witness. I am honored to be able to do that.

In struggle and love, Sher

 

Reflections from Cairo

I came to Egypt with the intent to go to Gaza. To break the seige. To deliever aid – but more importantly to bring a message of solidarity – and perhaps — if it is not too arrogant to think — hope. I have worked on this issue for some time. Although my time in Palestine has only been in the West Bank, I have always felt a call to be in Gaza. Last year during the horror of Cast Lead, I sat glued to my computer — frantically looking at blogs and at facebook status updates from my friends… “If he posted recently, he is still alive,” I would tell myself.
 
I have talked and written about the siege and blockade of Gaza. To talk about it in the abstract is one thing, but to actually come to Egypt and find that Gaza is harder to visit than a prison is something else. Wow! Ouch! I am not even sure how to express it. 
 
I learned that the Egyptian governmnet is highly efficient at maintaining the siege. Permits to gather were revoked, any attempts to meet were blocked, buses hired to take all the marchers to Gaza were prevented from showing up, and small groups who tried to get to Gaza on their own were stopped and turned back, put out along the way. Others found themselves under “house arrest,” blocked in their hotel in Al Arish. (still 48 kilometers away from the border)
 
It was very very frustrating.I cannot even start to tell you how frusterating it all was. Even beyond just getting into Gaza, every move we made was blocked. Turn one way blocked in, turn another – police barricade. Try something else – can’t leave the hotel. Yet, I know whatever frustration we felt is one hundered millionth of the frustration of the Palestinian people in Gaza.
 
So perhaps there is a grace in not getting in….or at least a lesson.  Because the Egyptian government gave us a small taste of what happens every day to people in Gaza. (And – having spent the last week in this police state, I think, perhaps, a very small taste of some of the hurdles Egyptians face when they challenge their government’s policies.)  I know that even with the pushing and shoving from the police and their acts of violence some experienced, as”internationals” we were given relatively wide latitude to demonstrate and express ourselves. Latitude that Egyptians do not have without putting themselves at much greater danger than we ever faced.
 
But our action at the  American Embassy reminds me that the siege is not Egypt’s policy alone — far from it. Egypt is, in many ways, the puppet here, with the US and Israel holding the strings. Let’s be honest. The siege is imposed, first and foremost, by Israel, but with the full complicity and help from of the United States. We have work to do at at home.
 
And so on this, our final day with the Gaza Freedom Movement here in Cairo, I know I have much more to reflect on, analyze, and write about:
 
   * Many forms of  Occupation
   * More about the events at the US Embassy
   * Resistance brings Joy
   * What does it mean to claim space?
   * Young police officers signing “We Shall Overcome” and chanting “Free Gaza” with us when their superiors looked away
 
 Some day I will go to Gaza. In’shallah, I will go as part of a visit to a Free Palestine.