Friday, October 8, 2010

March of the Dead on 9th Anniversary of War

A line of people dressed in black with uniform white masks walked slowly through the central bus plaza in downtown Providence this afternoon. 
The plaza was crowded with students and people going home from work, enjoying the gorgeous weather at the start of a three day weekend.  The war in Afghanistan was far from their minds.  I watched their faces as this strange parade approached.  Most looked puzzled or startled, then quickly became quiet and subdued. Many stopped talking.  Some pulled out cameras and took pictures.  Signs worn by the marchers carried the names of dead Afghan civilians - fathers, young men, women, children with names and ages, and date of death, followed by U.S soldier deaths and information on the other costs of war - the Post Traumatic Stress so many soldiers suffer and the $1 trillion that could have been funding head start programs, affordable housing, and health care.  Those of us handing out fliers found people to be unusually receptive to receiving them.  Some people wanted to talk.  "Had it really been nine years?"  "I had not idea so many people were dying there."  "Wow, it keeps going on and we hardly think about it." 

From the bus plaza we walked through city streets and over to the plaza in front of the Textron World Headquarters building.  We paused there, standing in silence.  One person came up to me looking curious.  I handed him a flier and explained briefly what we were doing.  A smile of recognition spread across is face.  "That's the perfect place to stand" - and asked permission to take a photograph.  The security guard came out, looking worried.  I handed him a leaflet, reminded him we were on a public sidewalk and assured him we wouldn't be there long.  (Note to self - we need to go back during work hours and stay longer!)
From there we walked back to the bus plaza for one more loop there.  Two teenagers came over curious about the masks but utterly baffled about what we were doing.  They had no idea that their country is at war.  Lots of work to do! 

As we debriefed at the end, the marchers we pleased with the event.  They found that being in the mask was very powerful, that it removed the personal dynamics that are part of most interactions and let the message just speak for itself.  Others spoke of it becoming a mediation walk, which allowed them to just be present to the horrors of war without the usual intellectual or political "noise".  And all commented on how well it drew attention and seemed to touch people. 

Thank you to all who participated.  I am grateful. 

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