Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ann Arbor vigil-- "Bombing Gaza is a Crime against Humanity"

"Vigil for Peace in Gaza Fills Street Corner"

A collection of photos

Scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. last Thursday, a vigil organized by Michigan Peaceworks and the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice had people filling all four corners of Liberty and Main streets in downtown Ann Arbor. The vigil was organized to call attention to the military violence in Gaza, with organizers calling for an immediate ceasefire. When I arrived around 6:45 p.m. it was apparent from the signage and the shouts that some of the demonstrators had taken a more strident position than the vigil organizers had likely hoped for.

One smaller event that unfolded almost immediately was embedded in the larger one. It was a changing of the guard: one vigil participant handed off their sign to another as the one arrived and the other departed. But by this time several participants were beginning to filter away without being replaced. One estimate floated by a participant put the peak number of participants at around 200.

Some of the demonstrators on Thursday had responded to the scheduled vigil in order to make a more partisan point than the organizers were making. But at least one of them had no prior knowledge of the vigil, and had been demonstrating in her usual spot on weekday evenings at Liberty and Fifth – in front of the Federal Building. Seeing the activity just west of her, and already equipped with a sign, “US-RAEL, biggest rogue nation,” she decided to join the larger group.

A group of young men were collecting signatures for a petition (calling for a ceasefire) to be sent to elected representatives in Michigan. Chatting with them, they recognized the name, Ann Arbor Chronicle, and let me know they were in agreement with comment number [5] about a previous article published here on an earlier demonstration. The comment was critical of the inclusion of an interaction between a demonstrator and a passerby, who questioned the motivation of the demonstrators.

On Thursday, I shared with them the same sentiment with which I ended that comment thread: we try to describe what unfolds in front of us. But in some ways that skirts the issue. Because we don’t describe everything that we see. It would be impossible to write, or to read, something that detailed. Every inclusion or exclusion is an editorial decision. A good photograph offers that level of detail, but the photographer has to point the camera somewhere. And that entails a decision about what direction to point it. Once you have the photograph, you have to decide if and how to crop it. That’s another editorial decision.

Below are some photographs from Thursday evening’s demonstration. The captions consist of commentary intended to provide some insight into what I thought was interesting enough about the image to offer them to Chronicle readers.

First shot of the evening. Many of the demonstrators carried the "Ceasefire Now" sheets, which seemed to be the preferred signage for those who'd responded to the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice request that participants should, "Please bring signs that support a peaceful end to the conflict in Gaza."

I like this one for the way a single candle and a single sign drew the whole huddle of people together.

The irony of the news hotline number: If I'm reading this number, I don't need to call you ... you're already here.

Given the sides represented among the demonstrators, the Channel 7 slogan on the truck prompts the question: "Really?? You're on MY side?? Which side is that, exactly?" (The photograph's angle makes it somewhat unclear what the demonstrator is holding. It's a rectangular sign – edge view.)

What was interesting to me about these signs was the split into two fields of black and white with reversed field lettering, which mirrors the stark contrast in viewpoints on the conflict. Also the pairing of "received" with "rocket" struck me as somewhat odd, making me wonder if the understatement was intended.

The woman next to the sign-holder was energetically wiping her feet on an Israeli flag, which I took to be the sign-holder's point of view as well. I took the sign to be an allusion to an Iraqi journalist's recent attempt to throw his shoe at President Bush – that is, a call to stand up and do something, whatever it might be. But the ambiguity is intriguing.

I liked this one for the contrast between everything that said "warm" (the glove, the candle, the fur-edged hood) against the shivering exhale.

I wondered if this guy was smiling about anything in particular, or if wearing a smile was part of his way of keeping warm.

This photo was cropped to include the signage on the restaurant, because I think it brings out how routine "background" messages would fill our visual field, if demonstrators on street corners did not occasionally offer a different message.

As someone who in many ways "goes green," the sign, in some sense, spoke to me.

This photo demonstrates that photos by themselves don't tell an accurate story. It might appear to show a confrontation between the sign holder and the person wearing the dark hooded coat. In fact, it was chat between friends.

This one, I thought, captured nicely the span in ages of participants.

These photographs give some idea of what happened on a street corner on a cold evening in a sleepy little midwestern U.S. college town. But they don’t give much real insight into events happening half a world away. Most of us, I suspect, don’t make conscious choices about how we want to be informed about far-away places. I sure don’t. We randomly sample from the ubiquitous stream of TV, radio, newspapers, and wire reports that permeate our modern life.

But there’s bound to be some Chronicle readers who aren’t as lazy as that, and who consciously use a specific news source to get information about the Middle East. If so, kindly provide a link (if possible) and a brief description why as a comment below. Feel free to leave other comments as well, bearing in mind our commenting policy.

[Editor's note: HD is Homeless Dave, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. ]


By Bryan

January 10, 2009 at 10:37 pm | permalink

Regarding the “Take your shoes off” picture, showing someone the soles of your shoes is an insulting gesture in the Arab world, like flipping the bird here. That, I think, is the intended symbolism behind both throwing the shoes at Bush and stomping on the Israeli flag.

By Anonymous

January 11, 2009 at 9:54 am | permalink

There were also loud chants, and at least one sign, that demanded “Boycott Israel”.

By Jeff Gaynor

January 11, 2009 at 11:35 am | permalink

I start with the assumption that everyone who was at the vigil, did so in good faith. My question: Why did people attend? For whom or for what? What did they hope to accomplish? I am not asking about political viewpoints, but why attend this event? Implicit in this question is why did others not attend.

By Jeff Gaynor

January 11, 2009 at 11:42 am | permalink

Regarding News Sources: President Nixon went on national tv in 1970 and declared we were not bombing Cambodia. Those who read the underground press knew this to be false and were incredulous that he could get away with this statement. Well, few knew - or perhaps wanted to know - the facts. Even with the internet, are we any better informed now? Do people read, watch or listen to the information that only confirms their views?

By Anonymous

January 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm | permalink

There was pretty much one reason to attend. To tell those who have now killed close to 1,000 Palestinians to STOP. And to tell the U.S. government to STOP funding their massive army, navy, and air force.

It is simply not credible that the rally was equally concerned with the 3 Israeli civilians who had been killed. Nor should it be!

That would be like, in the 1940’s, begging both the German army and the Warsaw Ghetto to please “stop the violence”, when 99% of the “violence” is committed by the German army, crushing the occupied ghetto inhabitants.

By Jeff Gaynor

January 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm | permalink

To anonymous: I’m not arguing your viewpoint, but does standing downtown ‘telling those … to stop’ have any effect? And if so, on whom? Certainly not on Israel (apparently) - and for that matter, for those arguing the other side, not on Hamas.

By Dogman

January 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm | permalink

Homeless Dave,
Pandering to a group that forces their women to cover themselves up doesn’t bode well for AA Chronicle. It’s fashionable to take the side of the pooooor palistaniains, bummer. Rethink your editorialisms.

By Anonymous

January 11, 2009 at 9:07 pm | permalink

Mr. Gaynor makes a rather determined argument for never demonstrating for anything. I’m glad that the Montgomery civil rights movement of the early 1950’s didn’t read his remarks.

They (actually, just one woman, Joanne Robinson) kept pushing the Montgomery city council for better treatment of Black bus passengers. The council acted as if she were crazy, and ignored her.

Then in 1955-56, the Montgomery bus boycott destroyed bus segregation nationwide.

I expect the current Palestine vigils to lead to something similar, like the end of apartheid, the end of occupation, in the entire Middle East. That will also end the racial profiling, and the public humiliation, of American Muslims and Arabs.