By Sherri Maurin (for Jan, Louie, David and myself) — 1/1/2010
It is New Year's Day evening. The moon is really full over Tahrir Square in front of The Mogamma; it is beginning to feel like the Gaza Freedom Marchers' place. We have done nonviolence training there, kicked off the march from points along it's perimeter and across from it, celebrated New Year's Eve and welcomed in a year of greater promise, and closed this phase of the journey together there.
At the closing circle I treasured seeing the chief of police who has followed us throughout the week with hundreds of his young conscripts (who I now affectionately call our "boys in black") enter our large circle, ostensibly to do crowed control; he ended up accepting a proffered cookie, leaving with a smile on his face……Small steps in the path toward world peace and understanding, based on sharing our humanity.
Yesterday was a day beginning with a rocket blast. We were having a quiet interfaith service down on the floor below, when we got the hurried message that the police were starting to barricade the hotels we were staying in, and we needed to get out right away. They did a total lock down of the Lotus Hotel, and those folks never made it to the march.
Louie, Jan and I raced to finalize our packing, turn in our money for safekeeping and get all the way downstairs, without using the elevators. I could feel my heart racing, and wondering if there would be a showdown before the action ever formally began.
We did make it out and began our search for a spot to "casually stroll in small groups of two or three around the square;" more than that number is an illegal gathering. We ended up using the metro tunnels to come up on the other side, and parked ourselves on the bus stop bench to read the newspaper and chat, trying to look unobtrusive. When Lisa strolled by with Starhawk we knew we'd chosen the right spot to wait, and Louie was particularly thrilled to be in the middle of the action.
Two to three at a time we dropped into a line, 5-10 feet apart and made our way over to the other side of the square where, at a common signal, we all took the street with signs and shouts. It was thrilling linking arms, and chanting for GAZA.
Very quickly we were surrounded by our "boys in black", but the violent energy was palpable. Once they closed us in on all 4 sides they started picking off individuals, separating vulnerable ones from the group, and hitting, dragging, kicking, etc. them as they pulled them out of the crowd. Visions of the movies many have seen like the Orange Revolution danced through my head.
Some sat down and that strategy turned out to be particularly provocative. We anticipated that they would be less physical if we were not standing, but that was not true. It seemed to anger them more and they used even greater violence to try and show they were in control. Large welts, and a dislocated shoulder were amongst the injuries…..
The three of us were linked with several hunger strikers, and we agreed to work our way over to the area where the police said you could move to the sidewalk peaceably. However, when our way was blocked by others who were going limp, and we weren't moving fast enough, two rows of the special forces who are particularly violent began crushing us between them. Louie and I kept repeating that we were trying to get to the sidewalk but the crush continued.
We were close enough to witness the blows many were being dealt; the police seemed angry and determined to get us out of the street, at any cost. Ultimately they succeeded and corralled us up on a large section of the block. Since taking the street for as long as we could, and then occupying a sidewalk like the French had done, were both part of the plan, we celebrated the victory of the whole action with cheers. However, it quickly became apparent that there were at least two types of energy in the crowd; one more militant; the other busily holding the line, singing and trying to make eye contact with the young recruits; a small, enthusiastically played accordion united us all.
The remainder of the day was like that… Affinity group representatives meeting to decide about food, supplies, process; chanting; dance circles, clapping, cheers in many languages, flags being hung from light poles and trees by dangling international representatives; all surrounded by a wall of black clad youth who secretly accepted trail bars when their commander wasn't looking, whispering "we love you." We did notice that they subtly kept moving back slowly giving us more ground; perhaps an acknowledgement of our non-violence.
People napped, read or played cards; others chanted with raised voices and fists led by megaphoned cheerleaders riding on the shoulders of comrades. We discovered that some were leaving and returning after bathroom breaks with food–always carrying extra for those of us still holding the space. That privilege was quickly revoked by a more hard-lined commander. It was a great sense of solidarity.
The delegates from the USA all voted to stay until at least midnite, but were overridden by other internationals who believed that we'd maximized the potential of the action. We left around 4:30 in small clusters, without ceremony or a sense of closure…perhaps a disappointing end to a day that had been filled with enthusiasm. Instead of welcoming the New Year in an encampment, we reconvened in "our plaza" for softer celebrations and quieter conversations, punctuated, again, by the wonderful songs wafting across the crowds from the accordion. Some made a four foot mandala out of candles which spelled out the word GAZA—hopefully a symbolic indication of new light coming to that occupied area this year; we circled it, all carrying candles, to add to that light and welcome a new year of hope and peace.
It was clearly not our hoped and longed for goal of being in Gaza. However, the action got press all over the world, with "breaking news" broadcasts on major networks in 40+ nations! Perhaps our goal to bring the plight of the oppressed in Gaza and the West Bank to the attention of the world was a resounding success. All I am sure of at this point is the work has just begun.
We send love and a heartfelt hope for peace to each of you in the year to come.
Sherri for Jan, Louie, David and myself