San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Seattle:
On the national day of action, a spirited, diverse crowd of protesters was in the streets of downtown San Francisco during rush hour, demanding “Close Guantánamo!” and “End Indefinite detention!” We gathered at the Federal Building, hoisting banners, tying orange paper armbands on, and many getting into jumpsuits and hoods. Initiated by World Can’t Wait, the action grew to 30 people, representing many groups: Amnesty International (AI), the Bradley Manning Support Network, Code Pink, School of the Americas Watch.
The AI intern crew arrived, having marched all the way from their office in their own jumpsuited procession to join us. As the AI group stood like statues around one kneeling “prisoner” gagged with an American flag – another nine jumpsuited protesters donned placards bearing the names and death dates of all nine men who have died at Guantánamo to date.
As we set up, World Can’t Wait and AI people flyered federal workers and passer-bys. Then and all afternoon it was disturbing and striking to see how many people know little or nothing about Guantánamo – that it’s still open, that 86 prisoners have been cleared for release but not released – let alone knowing anything about the hunger strike now in its 61st day. Later, at the vigil, we did meet a few people who know Guantánamo is a horror – one man angrily said he cannot understand why it hasn’t been closed, and the men either charged or released. A college student had read about the hunger strike in the New York Times. Another young woman had seen a flyer from our Good Friday action on a friend’s refrigerator, and looked us up on the Internet.
We listened to facts about the hunger strike, then two women in jumpsuits read to us the statement of prisoner Musa’ab al-Madhwani (this recent legal statement given to his lawyer should be read by every person in this country). Then in the slow “procession of prisoners” began moving down Market Street (San Francisco’s main drag). We were about 30 strong, and people stopped in their tracks to watch us pass. With a bullhorn, we informed the whole street about Guantánamo and the hunger strike. From many onlookers, there were some “thank yous” and occasional applause. Also of course the usual number of catcalls and curses. Flyering continued.
At the cable car plaza, we vigiled in a large open circle, listening to speakers taking turns on the bullhorn. We shared the news of the worsening conditions inside Guantánamo – horrific details known to the world only because prisoner Shaker Amer was able to speak once by phone with his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of the London-based Reprieve organization. (This full Reprieve report is also available on Andy Worthington’s website.) We heard an update about Bradley Manning whose courage gave the world the Guantánamo Files, and we heard about America’s long history of torture including Latin America
As we described the renewed efforts by the prison to stop this hunger strike (the Forced Cell Extractions, sleep deprivation, the vicious beatings out of camera sight, forced-feedings) more than twice someone in the crowd shouted back: “That’s exactly what they do to us HERE, in the prisons HERE!” (Yes, these friends were Black – and Yes, we’d answer, you’re right! Where did the Guantánamo torture techniques originate anyway, but in prisons inside the U.S.)
New people were constantly stopping and then staying to hear more, to take flyers, and to talk – eventually the circle was about 100 strong. We ended the vigil breaking into bold chanting led by AI and World Can’t Wait: “Close Gitmo NOW! Close Gitmo NOW!”
About 30 people participated in Chicago, gathering at the Federal Plaza as the work day was ending. Nine people put on the infamous orange jumpsuits, each carrying a sign with the name of a man who died at Guantanamo waiting for justice, for the world to speak out, etc. Pat Bronte, who represents several men on hunger strike, spoke to us about the dire situation there, including how guards are denying men clean water, playing load music through the night, turning up the air conditioning so they’re freezing, and on and on. We also agreed that one point we need to make over and over again is “Obama could free them today,” it is a lie that “Congress is blocking their release.”
We then processed from the plaza up State Street, the main shopping and bus avenue through the downtown area that is used by a very mixed demographic: young and old, middle class and working class, Black, Latino, and white. Our procession made a very dramatic picture. A lot of people were taking pictures and some asked what it was about. We passed out 250 WCW flyers and Amnesty International passed out some flyers in support of the hunger strike as well. This is the third action we’ve had through the downtown area in Chicago in the last two weeks and I think we’re building awareness each time. We ended at Daley Plaza, where we gathered around the eternal flame and tied 166 orange ribbons to it, representing the 166 men still held in the hellhole of Guantanamo, where we also sung “Courage, Muslim brothers,” led by Witness Against Torture. We vowed not to forget these men or the torture and crimes being committed there in our name.
Groups participating: World Can’t Wait Chicago, Witness Against Torture, Illinois Coalition Against Torture, White Rose, Amnesty International USA, Vets for Peace.
In NYC, World Can’t Wait , Witness against Torture, the Center forConstitutional Rights, and Amnesty international USA demonstrated opposite the large screen on 46th Street so that the reality and the image of the demonstration were simultaneous. After excellent speeches, citing both relevant particulars and also reminding us of our common humanity, the jump-suited “prisoners” and sign-carriers marched around Times Square.
The demonstrators were met with sympathy and support as well as a display of media-induced ignorance. People wrote letters to those in the Guantanamo prisons choosing from the displayed list of names of all 166 men still there.
In Seattle came out to protest. We handed out about 200 fliers and had to get 100 more printed on the spot. We wore orange jumpsuits. Two people brought their reading “Close Down Guantanamo”. There were a couple of young college students who came. There were some people on the street who knew what Guantanamo was and people who said to us, yes I agree with you Guantanamo needs to be closed down. One college student made the point that Obama had released the person who was supposedly in charge of shutting down Guantanamo and how this was a sign that this administration has no intention of closing Guantanamo.
Another person who came said that it was shameful that there weren’t more organizations who were apart of speaking out against this, and another person who came said that he thought that although we had a small presence that it was important to be out there to raise awareness about the hunger strike and challenging people about not going along with the crimes of their government.
Some people took stacks of flyers to get out to other people off of the hunger strike. I feel that it was very good to have some of these actions around country, calling for Guantanamo to be closed and standing with the hunger strikers in a time when many people are not aware of or ignoring the crimes of the Obama administration.