© All text & photos (unless otherwise noted) copyright Skip Schiel, 2004-2010
A series from my earlier writing, not always directly about Palestine-Israel, this an attempt to understand and express my journey of discovery that continues to enthrall and mystify me.
Originally written for the New England Yearly Meeting sessions (Quaker) keynote presentation on August 6, 2005 (revised February 17, 2010)
(This version is expanded from what I presented at Bryant College in Smithfield RI.)
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to gird your loins and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your arms, and someone else will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go. (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
—John 21: 18
May I write from an open heart and may you read me with a likewise open heart. May words and pictures lead to useful lives.
First political arrest
How odd, that in 2005 for five months I explored the political, religious and cultural landscape of Palestine and Israel, and altho I had a few close calls, I was never arrested, never detained, never brought to trial, never even directly threatened, that I know of. And then, a few months after returning home, just a few blocks from my house, I earned my first political arrest. On June 14 2005, on the Cambridge Common, the US army arrived, ostensibly to honor veterans and the army for its accomplishments at home and abroad, but in truth, many of us feel, to bolster the ranks of the not so willing.
Hearing of the plans just one week before, many people were shocked and quickly assembled to speak out about what the US army is doing in Iraq and world-wide (the proposed military budget for the following year was nearly 1/2 trillion dollars, 500 billion). We arrived on the Common with signs, banners, chants, and other messages of resistance. I was present primarily to photograph, concentrating on the children regaled by the displays of weaponry and the re-enactors and soldiers with cannon, Humvees, field hospitals, and even four men parachuting from a helicopter in plumes of orange smoke. I resonated with the children, because as an impressionable boy I had wished desperately to join the Navy, more about this episode in my life later.
We insisted on exercising rights granted to us by the first amendment to the constitution, which reads in part—
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
We risked joining the ranks of people such as Mary Dyer, an early Quaker in the colonies, a founding mother of this nation, a martyr, who gave her life for freedom of religion and speech more than 100 years before this amendment was written. Or John Woolman, the luminary Quaker, compassionately and dangerously visiting American Indians on the then frontier of New Jersey to discover if he might learn from them, and going to slave owners to gently encourage them to free their enslaved people.
On June 14th, Flag Day, as I photographed the Tactical Police Force pushing the dissidents, someone, probably an officer, knocked me to the ground and I was arrested. I am now reluctantly but proudly one of the Cambridge Seven, along with 2 American Friends Service Committee staff who were in retreat at the Cambridge Friends meeting center just a few blocks away when they first heard about the event. In a phone message of support to me, a good friend of mine, Jonathan Vogel Borne termed me an “unwitting hero.” At moments however, I have to wonder if I’m not a witless witness.
Louise Dunlap, photo by Polly Atwood
The American Civil Liberties Union defended us and planed a civil suit against the city of Cambridge for curtailing our civil liberties. I’ve put my voluminous writing and photographing about this experience on my website, teeksaphoto.org. I mention all this as a prologue to my presentation, as one possible example of what I’m advocating—off our benches, out of our meeting houses, enough writing of minutes, into the streets, into the throbbing regions of this world that need our attention, to enact a more daring resistance to the ills and wrongs of our world. And with that resistance, acting from our testimonies of equality, peace and nonviolence, civic and community responsibility, and justice, finally hearing that still small voice, that greater call, creating, enacting a vision of a better world. Despite the risk.
Police chief ordering vigilers to leave the stage area for an off-site “free speech” area
Many are called, and many are the calls, ranging from calls for justice, human rights, respect for the environment, orienting to what American Indians call the Seventh Generation, all the way to calls for retribution, vengeance, wrath, occupation, and imperial dominance. Some feel grounded in scripture, some in personal contact with their deity. Perhaps I am wrong in my direction, as I feel the Christian Zionists are tragically mistaken. Perhaps I am at least partially correct in my path, grounded in not only my own conscience but in that of a greater force, a more universal gravitation toward justice and freedom. The belief that all beings, all of creation is sacred, all interconnect, Mitakuye Oyasin, All my Relations, as my friends, the Lakota Sioux express it. Or as Dr. King said, the arc of struggle is long but it bends toward justice.
My arrest, photo by an anonymous person
TO BE CONTINUED