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Camden by Michael Gellman
I am very disappointed in the way I was treated yesterday at the demonstration in Camden, and I think it is important to point out what happened in an effort to prevent this from happening in future anti-war demonstrations.
I was standing inside the Walt Whitman Performing Arts Center in Camden holding a Green Party flag. The flag is about 24 inches long and 12 inches tall. On one side says “Green Party” and the other side says “Vote for Peace.” This message is consistent with anti-war theme of the demonstration. As I was simply standing there, a member of Citizen Action approached me and asked me to put the flag away due to the non-partisan nature of the event. After I responded that holding and displaying the flag was my right of free expression, the individual persisted in asking me to put the flag away again, highlighting the “non-partisan nature” of the event.
First, the event was organized nationally by United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ). Here is a description of the event from the website http://www.oct27.org
“This coming Saturday, October 27, people from all walks of life will gather in 11 cities around the country in a national expression of the breadth and depth of antiwar sentiment in this nation. For many people, it will be their first step in transforming their antiwar feelings into antiwar action. Regional actions will enable much larger numbers of people to participate.
Watch a video by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films, made in support of the October 27 mobilization. http://www.oct27.org/brave_new_video/
People everywhere want the war to end, but Washington has failed to take decisive action. With each passing month, the Iraq disaster claims the lives of nearly 100 service people and countless Iraqis as it drains 12 billion of our tax-dollars. Our communities are neglected and suffer the consequences.
Join the October 27 National Mobilization to End the Iraq War, initiated by United for Peace and Justice. “
Nowhere in this description or anywhere on the UFPJ website or on any of the fliers handed out was there a statement that this was or should be a “non-partisan event.”
Second, The Green Party of Camden County was asked to endorse the event, which our members voted unanimously to do so. You can see the list of endorsers here http://www.oct27.org/view/endorsers_philadelphia. In addition to our endorsement, we helped distribute fliers at PATCO stations the week of the demonstration, and we helped promote the event on our website and by sending emails to our members and supporters. Finally, several of our members, supporters and candidates were present at the event. To ask the Green Party for an endorsement and for our help, and then to prohibit us from showing our presence with banners, flags, etc. is simply wrong. In fact, the Green Party is about protecting, preserving and expanding human rights, not limiting them. This includes speech and any form of expression. The next time we are asked to support or endorse a “non-partisan” event such as this, where our voice will be stifled, my vote will be a solid “NO.”
Third, there were clearly other “partisan” types of activity going on at this event. Other political candidates (national and local) were present with very visible signs and distributing literature. Furthermore, many of the speeches were attacks on George Bush. While not partisan in itself, there were no outcries against the actions of the Democratic congresspersons who voted for the authorization for the war and who continue to vote to fund the war. This would be an appropriate action since our very own Rob Andrews continues to vote to fund the war, and Bush can not continue the war without the funds to do so.
Finally, nowhere did I see on any website or literature, that this was a Citizen Action event. My understanding of the event, was that it was supposed to be a national protest and expression of anti-war and pro-peace sentiment. It is simply wrong to try and limit the speech of individuals who show up to show their support at these demonstrations and express their viewpoints. It is my opinion that the Democratic and Republican Parties are in power and without any opposition or alternative parties to vote for, they will continue the occupation of Iraq and continue in the same old activities they have been doing for years.
The purpose of any anti-war demonstration should include gaining more visibility for the movement so that people know they are not alone with their position. But more importantly, the demonstration should lead to some future action and ultimately to change. The demonstration alone does not change the fact that the occupation/war continues. To end the war, people must unite to gain political power. This change is not possible under the Democratic or Republican parties, which they have already demonstrated.
The Green Party actively seeks change, not just wishful thinking. We will no longer participate in events and demonstrations that limit the free speech of participants, and to limit our efforts. To do so is pointless and a waste of time and energy.