A Report from the 9/22/2001 Daley Plaza Candlelight Vigil for Peace
Date and Time: September 22, 2001, 7:30 PM CDT
Place: Daley Plaza, Downtown Chicago
Most Famous Song By Slavemerchant-Turned-Priest John Newton: Amazing Grace
When I arrived at Daley Plaza about 7:20 PM, I saw four vans from local media outlets--one from NBC, another from CLTV, and two from white, apparently unlabelled vans.
But no one for the vigil.
Shades of my recent adventure at the Air and Water Show, which you can read about here.
But hark! There's two vigil organizers chatting with someone wearing press credentials.
Shades of my previous encounter with the commercial media. Fortunately, there was too much to do to let that preoccupy me. Unpacking commenced: candles, paper cups to hold melted wax, a big banner bearing the word "Peace."
And a giant cloth American flag.
Shades of eighth-grade safely patrol and the protocol I learned there for proper treatment of an American flag. Suddenly, my less-than-enthused response to all those ubiquitous flags from the Sun-Times receded, and my eighth-grade training came flooding back.
I helped hold the "Peace" banner for display to nearby traffic, including snooty pedestrians who walked right past us pretending not to see us. Others held up their own signs as the vigil steadily grew.
When we numbered about 25, we began to line up in front of the Picasso, holding lit candles helping to dispel the darkness--perhaps a poignant symbol of the small but potent calls in the U.S. for peace against the large and portentous calls for war.
A gentleman who identified himself as a war veteran chided us for our disrespect for the flag, especially for letting it touch the ground. (The eighth-grade part of me strongly agreed with him.) To help keep the now- unfurled flag from touching the ground, I pitched in, so that for a time I was simultaneously holding a corner of the Peace banner in one hand and a corner of the flag in the other. Some of the time this proved challenging.
My Procrustean pose caught the eye of an NBC reporter and camera person.
I was asked if war isn't the answer to the terrorist attacks, what is? My response as I can best remember it:
"[The answer is] Reasoned discourse and the rule of law. Just as with Oklahoma City: We didn't bomb Buffalo or Michigan because they held Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. We shouldn't bomb Afghanistan, a country that has been suffering under the Taliban and for a long time before that under the Soviets."
As I said those words, a bagpipe began playing. And guess which John Newton song?
"Do you think that we can totally eliminate terrorism?" A tougher question, so I asked for clarification. My eventual answer: we might not be able to, but we should at least try.
That's one small intelligent response in front of a microphone and TV camera, one giant vindication on a personal level for yours truly.
The vigil continued to grow. I counted about 60 people at its peak. The vigilers (?) would assemble from a long line in front of the Picasso into a circle in front of the Picasso.
Shortly thereafter, I was approached for a quick interview with a reporter for the People's Weekly World. (At this point, I'm asking myself: Why am I such a media magnet? Is it my good looks and charm or my brand of deodorant?)
Around 8:35 PM by my watch, the circle shrank as we converged to conclude the vigil, with another two John Newton verses by bagpipe.
Candles blown. 'Twas a successful evening, especially with the good vibes we gave the local media and the good PR that this can give our cause. I count myself very lucky to be able to pass the baton in this relay race to save the world.
Let's win this race.