Anti-Americans Seize Control of Pro America Rally
My Experience at the Pro America Rally (March 29) in Harrisburg
A first-hand account of what turned out to be a hate rally.
by Alanna HartzokOn March 29 I participated in the Pro America rally at the state capitol in Harrisburg. I carried a white sign with red and blue letters spelling out PATRIOTS FOR PEACE. I wanted to bear witness to being for America doing the right thing in the world, and that the right thing would be to bring our troops home from an illegal and immoral war.
Looking for the Patriots for Peace group who had come from several areas of southcentral Pennsylvania, I walked into the middle of the lower area of the capitol steps which was packed with many of the hundreds of people who had come out for the rally. Within a few seconds, my red, white and blue PATRIOTS FOR PEACE sign was spotted and people on all sides began to shout angrily at me. They told me to "get out of here" "you don't belong here" "go to Iraq." People called me a traitor, a bitch, a communist.. Two of them came up to me and yelled, "I hate you."
One woman in particular could not restrain from shouting hateful words. She told me to leave, and when I did not she walked up to me and pressed the front of her body against mine to try to push me. I stood my ground but did not push her back. She shouted with rage in my face for what seemed like several minutes. I softly said "I love you" back to every harsh phrase of hers. Others told her to step away (she finally did) and the group decided that it was best to ignore me since I was not going away. I stood there quietly a few more moments until someone behind me started dangling a US flag in my face. At that point, I decided to walk away to look for my friends. Several in the angry crowd indicated their pleasure that I was leaving.
I was not afraid. I felt the force of satyagraha -- the phrase Gandhi used meaning "truth force" -- in my witness for the way of peace and nonviolent resolution of conflicts on our small shared planet home. I felt sad for these people full of such fear, anger and discontent.
As I was walking away a reporter, Laura Giovanelli from the York Dispatch/Sunday News, came up to me to talk and take notes on what I had to say.. She had observed what had happened.
Then I saw my partner Rob who had finished lettering his PEACE IS PATRIOTIC and BRING OUR TROOPS HOME NOW signs. As I was walking towards him the police saw our signs and insisted we go with them to an area behind the barricades. We felt protected by the police van and the policemen, as we knew by then that we were in a very hostile crowd. Then we spotted others (there were about 15 of us) with our Patriots for Peace group who had been experiencing hateful jeers until the police decided to intervene and direct them behind the barricade as well.The Progress Report interrupts to wonder -- perhaps there are two ways of looking at what happened. One -- a big Pro-America rally was held and somehow hundreds of anti-Americans knew that the rally was really meant for them. Two -- only fifteen people showed up for a pro-America rally, and hundreds of anti-Americans took it over completely, forcing the pro-Americans to seek protection behind police barricades. Either way, it looks like America is suffering from a shortage of actual pro-Americans. (For more on the characteristics of Americans and anti-Americans, click here.)For most of the rest of the Pro America Rob and I stayed on the left side of the barricaded area, facing the bottom of the capitol steps towards the podium with the speakers at the top of the stairway. Among the waving flags and signs we spotted one that said "McCarthy was Right" and a man with his dalmation dog painted red, white and blue.
As people around us spotted our PATRIOTS FOR PEACE signs they shouted things like: "Communist, baby killer, you are stupid, you don't know anything, go to Iraq, be a human shield over there." A couple times Rob could not resist yelling back that such accusations were untrue. The policemen told him to be quiet or he would be held responsible for instigating a riot. The policemen were right in reading the energy of the situation, which could have possibly escalated into physical violence against us if the police had not been there doing their job.
Most of the others with the Patriots for Peace group left before the rally was over. They were jeered by several in the surrounding crowd as they walked down State Street. Rob and I decided to stay until the rally disbanded. We were there to hear the next speaker at the podium direct angry, ugly and slanderous words towards those who vigil for peace. I thought, "If this is what democracy looks like, I do not think we should be exporting it to other countries."
We continued to stand near the police van behind the barricade while the crowd was disbanding. I pulled my black lace veil over my head as a nonverbal statement of mourning. People asked if it was a burka. I said no, I am mourning all of the people who are dying in this war.
As they left the capitol steps, small groups of people came up to yell at Rob and I. We made efforts at dialog. We tried our best to let people know we thought there were other ways to deal with Saddam Hussein - like the International Criminal Court - but they laughed at our "stupid ideas." When we mentioned how the United Nations and the inspections teams could have worked to prevent this war, they laughed and jeered at the UN, saying it was a worthless institution. When we said the war was over oil and corporate control of the Middle East, they said it was not, that it was to liberate the suffering people of Iraq, who would soon be greeting our soldiers with gratitude.
One woman did manage to calm down enough so that we could have a civil exchange of thoughts and feelings. She asked me to remove the black veil so she could look me in the eyes and when I did that she said she trusted me more. Another man said he was a minister, that "everyone wants peace" but sometimes it is "necessary to fight." I would have liked to have talked to him about issues of war and peace, but he, too, was more intent at telling me I was wrong rather than entering into sincere dialog.
As the crowd was still dispersing and we wanted to leave, we thought it was the better part of wisdom and self protection to ask for a police escort. A friendly mounted policewoman rode alongside us as we walked to our car two blocks away. Along the way, a TV cameraman and another reporter took pictures of us and our signs and wrote down our statements. During the short interview, a woman dressed in red, white and blue expressed her opinion that this was a Pro America rally and that people like us should not be getting any air time.
We then put our signs in the car and walked to visit our friends at their home on Green Street.
Alanna Hartzok is Co-Director of the Earth Rights Institute. In 2001, Hartzok was the Green Party candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania's Ninth Congressional District. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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