“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go”—part one

© 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.)

PART ONE

Photos: US Army on the Cambridge Common, June 14, 2005

For the complete slide show that accompanied the original keynote presentation

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

7 thoughts on ““And you will be carried where you do not wish to go”—part one

  1. Skip,

    A friend sent me your blogsite and photo/text accounts of the action for which you were arrested. I’m a Vietnam vet, a member of Veterans For Peace since 1985 and a writer/photographer just like you. My wife works for the Yearly Meeting of Quakers here in Philly.

    I have been developing some ideas that I have written a bit about after an Op-Ed News reporter/photographer was arrested here at a demonstration opposed to the Army Experience Center at a mall outside Philly. No one in the “mainstream media” covered the event. I could not imagine some one from ABC or Fox News being arrested for “covering” such an event — even for videotaping the formalized arrests at the close of the demo. But they felt very comfortable shutting down and arresting a person from a blog — who presumable did not have the police department issued press credentials (or badges) that all mainstream institutional press people have.

    So I wrote a piece called “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” I quoted the First Amendment about “the press” and suggested in the age of blogs, that term covered an independent blogster covering an event — this in the spirit of a one-man operation of a Colonial American “reporter” with a hand press.

    Two days ago the annual George Polk Award in journalism was awarded to the anonymous lone videographer who videotaped the death of a woman in a mass demonstration in Teheran. No doubt he or she had no press credential (or badge) from the Teheran government. Yet, one of the major journalism awards has officially recognized that loner, unaffiliated, independent reporter/photographers covering political demonstrations are legitimate members of “the press.” And fully covered by the First Amendment.

    Given the Op-Ed News person, here, and your experiences — also some of mine — I plan to query a First Amendment lawyer I know on the matter. I think it might make for a good First Amendment lawsuit.

    I’d love to hear any comments you might have.

    Best,
    John

    John Grant
    grantphoto@comcast.net
    610-832-7028 home
    610-564-7628 cell

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  2. john,

    thanks for your thoughtful comments to my blog about first amendment rights for people like you and me, unconventional journalists.

    i might like to be included in your discussions with a lawyer, to the point of having my arrest experience shared. i appreciate your insight into this new matter of how to apply civil rights protection to novel and new situations.

    the danger to journalists, as you probably know, extends dramatically to losing one’s life. i believe i heard that last year was the highest ever in journalists’ injuries and deaths. and a classic case you may not be aware of is that of charles harmon, murdered most probably by chilean operatives working under pinochet, apparently with the collusion of the nixon administration. the costa gavras movie, missing, made in 1982, is about this case and well worth watching.

    as i’ll relate later in my blog series i discovered new courage thru the arrest. earlier i’d avoided arrest at all costs, mainly because i believed i’d be more useful out with my camera than in prison or jail without. and now i feel i’m much more willing to risk arrest in the course of doing my job. a few years ago in israel-palestine this belief or supposition or theory or hope was put to the test. i risked arrest to more fully cover a nonviolent action against the occupation. tho nabbed and held for a short time, after a discussion in hebrew between officials, they let me go.

    do you know scott camil, living in gainsville fl, like you a vet for peace, and extremely active? we met in oct during one of my southern tours with my israel palestine photos. he is an admirable character, brilliant with ideas and faithful in execution. i’m copying him our correspondence in case there might be value in you two meeting each other.

    keep me posted. and thanks for your concerns and attention. in solidarity,

    —Skip

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  3. My Dear Skip,

    I was deeply saddened when I found out that our city councilors thought it would be a good idea to pull our children from school so that they could celebrate the military.

    Looking at your pictures of children wearing military helmets reminds me of the pictures of German children during world war II in helmets. Early on in Hitlers rise to power, children were given uniforms as a form of indoctrination, at the end of the war they actually fought and died in uniform. I remember watching an interview with a World War II Veteran where he recounted coming across a 11-12 year old German boy’s uniformed body. He described how the boy’s face was partially missing and his brains were hanging out of this open wound. Decades later when he recalled this witness, you could see the indelible scars war had left upon his being.

    In another interview, an aged veteran described how he had shot an elderly Frenchman on a bicycle. The french civilian was carrying a broom on his back which the soldier mistook as a rifle. He sobbed heavily as he confessed that he had never spoken to anyone over the decades about this incident.

    When I asked my Quaker Jr. High Sunday School (First Day School) students if they thought that war was necessary and would they fight in a war, half of the boys said yes. They said that sometimes war is necessary. I tried in vien to describe that fact that war is always horrifying, indecent, unjust and inhuman. They could only understand war from the frame of reference that they had received through Hollywood movies and society which glorifies war. They could not understand what veterans (civilian and military) of war knew.

    I have an idea how to protest the next time that a military celebration is given on the City of Cambridge Commons. A colonial era law which allow citizens of Cambridge to graze their cattle on the Commons is still on the books. It would be good if we could purchase cattle for one day and unload a truck load on the common to graze and to run amok during the military advertisement aimed at the next generation, our children.

    Putting aside my cattle protest fantasy, I realize that we will never stop military propaganda and blind nationalism, the real answer is to let people who have experienced war bear their witness to our children.

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    1. paul,

      thank you for your thoughtful reflection, especially for the cattle grazing idea. brilliant! and such a pity that some of our own quaker youth at friends meeting cambridge have been so thoroughly indoctrinated—despite what i hope has been the best efforts of their parents to persuade them of the truths you state. your idea gives me an idea: let’s find a way within the framework of meeting to work on this with our youth. perhaps consulting either sev bruyn or dave bonner, both part of vets for peace, and ask for their ideas. they are elders and might be suitable speakers, esp sev who is a vibrant speaker, but maybe they could suggest younger vets, closer to the ages of our boys and girls. what do you think?

      if you think yes or maybe, let me know and i’ll bring it to youth program comt which meets again march 14, 8:30 am – 10:15. you might like to be part of our hi school age youth retreat to the peace abbey in sherborne on feb 28, leaving meeting at 8:30 am. (altho this might conflict with first day school for you)

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