I have to admit, this pro-peace/anti-war enterprise I initiated some dozen years ago can get a little depressing and discouraging, especially in the wake of unpleasant experiences with people who do not like what they see. Friday and Saturday were troubling, making me question whether I should be doing this. Am I doing the right thing? Should I keep doing it or simply forget about it? But then I figured, if I stop doing what I do, I am simply placing myself in the company of millions of Americans who have no concern for the billions upon billions of dollars being squandered on unnecessary, un-winnable wars in the Middle East and feel absolutely no sadness nor remorse over what we have done to the hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern men, women and children blown to bloody bits and burned to death by OUR weapons of mass destruction. I do NOT want to be a member of that crowd, thank you very much, so I have to push on.
My activism, I am sorry to say, has eroded friendships among people who claim to be followers of the Prince of Peace, talking the talk but do not walking the walk. On the other hand, my efforts have strengthened relationships with like-minded folks and has enabled me to make new friends with similarly-inclined people, so I guess it all evens out. I am in a good place.
On Friday I again stood on the northwest corner of East 9th Street and Carnegie Avenue for a couple of hours to greet people going to the Indians-Athletics game at Progressive Field. It’s the best spot for exposure of my message that I can think of, since there is considerable foot traffic as well as vehicle traffic. As is my habit, I offered friendly greetings to people, saying things “Hi,” or “It’s a beautiful evening.” I never ever initiate an argument nor proselytize for peace. I let my flag do that.
The majority of people ignored me when I greeted them, refusing to engage. Many did thank me for my service, however, even if they did not agree with my message. Some reached to shake my hand and only a depressingly-small number said they agreed with my message. One smiling man of a certain age patted me on my upper left arm and said, “I haven’t seen a flag like that for 50 years.” I said, “It’s always in style.”
On the other hand, one man said to me, “You aren’t protesting, are you?” I said, “I’m promoting peace.” He said, “You can’t protest when you’re in uniform.” I again said, “I’m promoting peace.”
“Wow,” I thought. “That guy must think I am on active duty.” Then I thought, “I guess there aren’t that many old veterans who can still fit in their uniform.” (Note: There are limits to freedom of speech for active military personnel that could result in reprimands or even a court martial, but I have not been on active duty for 50 years. No sweat)
After the foot and vehicle traffic waned, I decided to promote peace to folks attending the “Star Spangled Spectacular” on Mall C, which involved a free performance by the Cleveland Orchestra. I was pleasantly surprised to see a longtime peace proponent Chad Meyers and his family. We chatted a few minutes and his daughter took a photo that he posted on Facebook.
Toward the end of my excursion I was stopped by a woman with a camera who said she was with cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. I said, “Lisa DeJong?” She expressed surprise that I knew who she was and I said she had taken my picture several years ago on the Veterans Memorial Bridge during an anti-war protest marking the deaths of 3,000 U.S. military in the Iraq war that began in March, 2003. I mentioned to her, however, that only my right hand holding peace flag aloft in the wind made it into the picture, with my disembodied self cropped out.
Turns out that Friday evening Lisa had followed me around as I wove my way among the Cleveland Orchestra fans, taking photos of me. The Plain Dealer used one Lisa took of me from behind–my best side, as the picture did not reveal wrinkles nor blemishes on my face.
The following day, rather than attend my weekly peace vigil behind the West Side Market with about seven or eight other like-minded folks, I decided to again catch folks going to a Saturday afternoon Indians-Athletics game, as there would be many, many more people to see my message.
As you might guess, my experience was similar to that of Friday evening, but replete with one hurtful experience.
A man walking by said, “disgrace,” referring to the uniform and peace flag.
I immediately shouted in response, “THANK YOU!! VERY NICE.” He said nothing and continued walking.
I have to admit his comment kind of knocked the wind out of my psyche. Rather painful. But this old soldier has to soldier on.
The Yankees are in town this coming weekend for a four-game series with the Indians. Guess who will be at East 9th and Carnegie for at least one of the games.