Every Friday, members of the local community meet in Pioneer Square in downtown Portland to protest war and demand peace. They hope to educate, activate, and motivate other people in the community with their public presence. This regular event has been occuring since shortly after September 11, 2001, when two commercial airliners crashed into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City. The perpetrators of this crime were unknown, but the United States government and corporate media immediately began a war against Afghanistan, Muslims, and the civil liberties of U.S. citizens. Later, although there was still no credible, independently verifiable evidence pinning the blame for the WTC attacks on anyone, the U.S. government expanded its efforts into what it and the corporate media calls "the war on terror". Intensified attacks on Iraq seem likely soon, for example, even though that country has been decimated by over ten years of sanctions that have prohibited people there from acquiring medical supplies or fixing their shattered infrastructure. Babies are born there with grotesque birth defects from the depleted uranium and other waste left behind after the U.S. government's invasion of 1991. |
Meanwhile, the government of Israel -- which receives money from the U.S. government and buys weapons from U.S. manufacturers -- used the worldwide tumult and fear to renew its attacks on the Palestinian people, whose lands it has stolen and whose homes it destroys. Palestinians retaliate against Israel sometimes, but on a different scale due to fewer resources and means. I saw a sign at a protest once that said, "A suicide bomber is a poor man's F-16."
Each week, the people who meet in Pioneer Square choose a different theme in order to highlight particular crimes of the U.S. government and demand their end. This week, they chose to focus on the recent attacks by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, the Israeli army) on the Palestinian-inhabited Gaza Strip.
Protest participants invite other people to join in this weekly event.
Sometimes the discussions that ensue over the issues become quite heated.
A gentleman got up in front of the crowd to speak. He was very passionate. He talked about how a U.S.-made F-16 fighter plane dropped a high-yield explosive onto a civilian neighborhood in Gaza, a narrow, densely populated region bordered on its south side by Egypt, its west side by the Mediterranean Sea, and it's north and east sides by Israel. The Israeli government claimed it was trying to kill a leader of Hamas, a group of Palestinians who use violence in their struggle against the Israeli occupation of their land. The speaker said that this type of action is considered "legitimate" by the U.S. government, and is treated so by the mainstream corporate press, but is actually "extrajudicial execution" and "illegal murder". "There was no jury and no judge. Just an exectutioner."
Killed in the strike were members of the leader's family. 14 Palestinians in all lost their lives in the attack, 9 of them children. The speaker drew on the brutality suffered by Jews (who make up the majority of Israel's population) under Hitler's rule in Germany during World War II to highlight the emotional effects of such raids. "As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I say we have to talk about the pain the people of that region feel. For each person, it is their own personal holocaust. Think of the blind grief of those who lost family. We must feel that grief ourselves... We must especially feel it as Americans because we gave them [the Israeli government] the F-16."
"We feel grief and outrage [about the violence of the Occupation of Palestine]," he went on, and spoke of the importance of acting on one's beliefs. "But it means nothing if we do not act. It's good to be out here, in public, but that's not enough... When you go home, write a letter to the editor. When you do, you're doing something to bring us closer to a resolution, closer to peace. It might not be much, but it is infinitely better than nothing. You reach an audience... Join an organization... Join us here every Friday."
He turned more personal near the end of his speech. "I feel this [pain, outrage] most keenly because I have family there [in Israel]... We can make peace. I ask you all today to ask yourselves, 'What can I change in my own life? Is there something I can do?' You don't have to give your entire life to this and become a full time activist, but there are things you can do."
He finished by saying, "You are expressing a spirit of justice and peace. Hold on to that and be strong with that."
These weekly events have been organized by the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition. For more information, go to their website: portlandpeacefulresponse.org, attend one of their regular meetings on Tuesday nights, or come to one of the Friday rallies.