Lessons from Independence Day in Greensboro

Folks who believe the official line that the support for the current US policies in the war on terrorism and the new domestic measures at home is nearly unanimous need to know what happened in Greensboro, North Carolina on the 4th of July.

The Greensboro Peace Coalition heeded a firm suggestion by one of its leading younger members that it should have an entry in the city’s annual 4th of July Parade. After some hesitation, we decided to register an entry and spread the word widely among our contacts that we were going to claim our piece of the public space and utilize that day of patriotism to spread our message of opposition to Bush’s “war on terrorism”.

To coincide with our entry into the parade, we bought a half page ad in the local daily paper, the Greensboro News and Record and had them print the “Not In Our Name — Statement of Consciousness” along with names of over 100 prominent national signers.

We were never sure how many people would show up. Some of our members and supporters were afraid that the parade entry would be too agressive a tactic. They feared that in the light of the patriotic outburst since 911 an entry in the city’s parade would be too much in the face of those who would be waving the flag that day. Some of the same folks who have stood weekly on a busy street corner in a vigil for peace every since October when the US started bombing Afghanistan, felt that the parade entry would be a bit too much.

Some of them changed their minds and came to the parade anyway. The were all glad that they did because those negative fears turned out on this 4th of July in Greensboro North Carolina to be wrong.

We had over 50 people — black and white, young and old, professional and laboring and unemployed — come to march with us behind a large banner that said “Greensboro Peace Coalition — Not In Our Name”. Along the route we passed out small flyers with the “Not In Our Name” pledge of resistance on one side and a statement from the Greensboro Peace Coalition on the other. The theme of the Parade was “American Heroes”. Our delegation marched with posters of Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King, and other great Americans who have stood for peace and against militarism and agression.

As we walked the mile and a half parade route, many of the people along the street began to applaud. There were a few hecklers, but only a few. There were far more smiles, peace signs and applause. Two city police on bicycles pulled into the parade to follow our group. We passed the reviewing stand where there was a live broadcast on the local radio. The announcer seemed a bit surprised as he announced “And here is … the Greensboro Peace Coalition.” We let out a cheer for ourselves that could be heard on the radio.

After the parade, we set up a table among the groups who participated in the day long “Fun Fourth” activities. We were in between the table of a businessman running for US Senate, and a young man selling digital phone service for AT&T. Many people came by our table to pick up more literature and to talk. So many times that day we heard how glad people were to see someone with the courage to express concerns about the nation’s direction.

A real surprise came when officials from the event’s organizing committee came to our table to give us the award for “Best Interpretation of Theme” in the Parade.

After the day was over, I looked at the emails coming to the Greensboro Peace Coalition. Some of them were caustic and critical of us for having the nerve of going against “mainstream America”. One said that what we were doing and saying was not “in vogue” and that this wasn’t the 60’s. Many others however expressed real joy that someone was standing up for what was right and asking how to get more involved.

We are following up by getting people involved in our regular meeting and inviting them to other special events like the speaker from Colombia who will talk about the US military involvememt there at a covered dish dinner here in just over a week.

There is a real lesson in this. If you scratch the surface of the poll numbers about Bush’s and Ashcroft’s overwhelming support, you get down to a lot of people with a lot of questions, a lot of concerns and a lot of fears. Some of them are afraid that they are alone in what they are thinking.

What it takes to get them excited and to get them involved is for them to see someone standing up so that they will know that they are not alone. We should have been doing this in every city across the country that had a 4th of July parade. If we had the forsight and the courage, we could have turned this day of flag waving into a day of introspection and dialogue and building this important movement against repression here at home and agression abroad.

Ed Whitfield lives in Greensboro, NC.


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