Wednesday In The Park With Norman Siegel
Forget about fireworks, picnics, and barbecues. What have they got to do with the true meaning of Independence Day, anyway? No, we New York peace grannies and friends celebrated this important occasion last Wednesday in the true spirit of the day.
We had become aware that Norman Siegel, the great civil liberties attorney and former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who had been our defense attorney when we were put on trial for six days for attempting to enlist at the Times Square recruiting station, had for 39 years celebrated July 4 silently by reading to himself the Declaration of Independence and parts of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For the last twenty years, since the creation of Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon created by his widow, Yoko Ono, in Central Park, he had mostly performed his ritual there.
With Norman's blessing, we planned to hold a reading of the documents, out loud this time, with Norman, as well as a reading of the names of those fallen in Iraq from New York State.
At noon, about 100 members of the Granny Peace Brigade, Grandmothers Against the War, Code Pink and Veterans for Peace and our friends and supporters assembled in Strawberry Fields, Yoko Ono's lovely gift to the City of New York. Situated in a corner of Central Park just off 72nd Street and Central Park West, it's a tranquil oasis in the midst of the clamoring City -- overhung by tall trees giving it a quiet coolness conducive to contemplation and serenity. In the middle of the space is a circular memorial to John etched with the words, "IMAGINE," which, in all the times I've visited there has been festooned with floral tributes from the many fans who flock there on a regular basis. Last week, there seemed to be more flowers and fans than ever.
We staked out our space just a little off to the south of the Lennon circle. We had our GRANNY PEACE BRIGADE banner, our GRANDMOTHERS AGAINST THE WAR sheet banner, much battle-scarred by the various relentless elements it has contended with, and our big black WE WILL NOT BE SILENT streamer. Our liaison with Yoko Ono, Richard Joly, arranged for Mikihiko Hori, Onoweb correspondent, to come up from Washington DC with a video camera, a tripod and an old Army helmet. He set the helmet upside down and filled the inside with hundreds of IMAGINE PEACE pins donated by Yoko for the occasion, to be given freely to anybody who wanted them.
The great man arrived -- Norman Siegel strolled in with his granddaughter, Emma, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Before we began to read these documents, I read a message and poem from Yoko Ono to us created explicitly for the read-in we were about to embark on. She wrote:
Statement and Poem From Yoko Ono Lennon For The Norman Siegel and Granny Peace Brigade Ceremony in Strawberry Fields, New York City, on July 4, 2007:
When we stand up for Peace, we are being thanked by the earth underneath us, the sky above us, and the billions and billions of people on this globe who wish for the same. Our heart beats in unison with them, and with the children of the World, who wish not to be maimed or be orphaned. It is important that each one of us will stand up and be counted. It's time to do so. I am glad that grannies are making their voices be heard. I want them to know that I am with them.
With my deepest love, in sisterhood,
Yoko Ono Lennon
We're people with Energy and wit
Let's give our best For Peace
And put the war to rest
It's time for Action
There's no option.
Spread the word
Peace To heal the world
Bring back the soldiers
Our sons and daughters
Spread the word Peace
And heal the world
Having been blessed, so to speak, with Yoko's impassioned communication, Norman stepped forward and explained that all who wished to would read the Declaration as well as passages from the Constitution he had highlighted in yellow. We formed our own circle parallel to the Lennon memorial one and began our examination of the papers that define us.
Standing next to Norman was Bill Perkins, the wonderful former two-term NYC Councilman and now New York State Senator from the Upper West Side and Harlem. Bill is and always has been a passionate opponent of the war in Iraq and, more than any other Council person, introduced peace legislation into that body. Newly elected to the Senate, he will bring a progressive stance much needed there, and with the force of his intelligence and charismatic personality will make a significant mark.
Thus began the reading. It was like an outdoor civics class, really. As it progressed, Norman and Bill would stop every now and then after a passage or an amendment and explain how the particular excerpt was being subverted in America today. Especially meaningful to us all was the part about impeachment, which stated that among other things, the President could be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors." A cheer went up at that point, as we all recognize so painfully the many crimes committed by Bush and his Administration under the guise of the "Fight Against Terror" - the loss of habeas corpus for prisoners in Guantanamo, to name just one of the many. We all know too well what breaches of the law he and his cadre have committed in our name.
Bill Perkins elucidated for us how the Fifth Amendment is being abridged right now in New York City. It states that you cannot take private property except for public use. His West Harlem district is engaged in a struggle with Columbia University, which is trying to usurp people's property for its own use - not for public use. And you wanted to send your kids there, huh?
And, then, inevitably, the subject of Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's jail sentence came up and how it demonstrates that the law is being applied unequally, a definite abuse of the Constitution.
In between reading the documents, we read aloud the names of the fallen New York soldiers and marines in Iraq, punctuated after each name by the mournful sound of a single drum beat.
Our July 4 celebration was certainly age friendly, spanning approximately five generations. An 8-year-old girl read one of the amendments -- perfectly, I must add -- and 91-year-old Granny Peace Brigade jailbird (and former NYS Assemblywoman) Marie Runyon made one of her feisty speeches. A highlight of the day was when 88-year-old legally blind Molly Klopot recited the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights from memory. For the record, it is the one forbidding suppression of freedom of speech, religion and the press.