The Common Good
May-June 2003

It's Up to You, New York, New… ouch!

by Ed Spivey Jr. | May-June 2003

What would Jesus do? Turn the police horses into bunnies.

A weekend in New York City is always a fun-filled experience, what with the shopping, the Broadway shows, and that special feeling you get from being trampled by angry policemen on large horses. Unfortunately, it wasn't all fun-filled, since some of the policemen were quite large themselves and, as I recall, a couple of the horses were pretty angry, too. And also large.

It was a big weekend for us, so my youngest daughter and I got up early Saturday morning and left the relative safety of our hometown of Washington, D.C. (after first unwrapping the duct tape from the front door and checking the yard for terrorists seeking to change our American way of life, such as John Ashcroft). In New York City we joined thousands of peace-loving people to protest war in Iraq and, in a larger sense, to call for a world without hate, without war, and above all without people who at the drop of a hat will sing "Down By the Riverside" in public. Also, "Kumbaya" and "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, [something bad] Has Got to Go."

In short, my daughter and I were there to put our bodies on the line for peace. And after that we were going to shop for CDs and maybe go ice skating at Rockefeller Center, but NOT until we had stopped the war (which we wanted to do by around 6-ish, since the skating rink fills up pretty quickly).

THE DAY BEGAN as gloriously as a wind chill of minus 10 would allow, and the New York subways were filled with like-minded protesters whose spirited enthusiasm would have been much more contagious had their signs not poked me in the eye whenever the train stopped to take on more protesters with more pointy signs.

The city had forbidden street protests, so we were forced to march on the sidewalks, which slowed us down considerably when we passed Macy's department store. (Clerks were dressing the mannequins, and I was immediately taken in by the intoxicating seductiveness of inanimate figures beckoning, Barbie-like, to impressionable passers-by who had not yet noticed the icy, judgmental stares of one particular teenage daughter. Ahem.)

A few blocks later we ended up in the middle of the street—hundreds of thousands of us—and we quickly got down to the important business of the day: chanting funny things about George W. Bush and reading each other's signs. (My favorite: "France is Right. Go Figure.") Let's face it, once you've placed your body on the line, there's not much else to do (we couldn't break into small groups because there was no room), except maybe to patronize the stores that happen to be where you've ended up, which in our case was a wig store. (Hey, I thought Starbucks was everywhere!)

Fortunately, the police sensed our lack of direction (I think it was hearing the 17th verse of "Kumbaya," which by that time was "Give us Porta-Johns, Lord, give us Porta-Johns.") and helpfully decided to break both the monotony and our heads. First came a v-shaped wedge of running police officers (exactly like a flock of geese, apart from the helmets, guns, and nightsticks). After that came about 30 cops on horseback, urging us in word and fetlock to move back to the sidewalks. At one point my daughter was face-to-chest with a large horse, an animal which, under normal circumstances, she would have hugged and attempted to bring home. ("We can fill my sister's room with straw! Dad, PLEASE can we keep it!?") But at this moment she was focusing more on the rider, and, judging by her vigorous resistance and colorful language, she seemed to have forgotten most of what she had learned in her Little Golden Book of Gandhi.

I couldn't reach out and help, because I was being violently pushed and shoved in various other directions. All I could do was watch helplessly and wonder what Jesus would have done. (Answer: Turn all the horses into bunny rabbits. Then maybe my daughter would stop yelling vehemently at the cops and start vehemently cooing things like "Dad, PLEASE can we keep them!? We could fill my sister's room with straw and....")

But then the cops started using their clubs, and it soon became obvious that, in New York, the right for a policeman to swing his nightstick ends just a few inches beyond where my nose begins, depending on his follow-through.

So, we ducked and cowered and squeezed back down the sidewalk to safety, saddened by the disturbing glimpse of what life must be like under rampant authoritarianism. Oops, I mean Republicanism.

Our spirits were in need of restoration, and our faith in America would have been shaken to the core had it not been for the key lime pie we ate after ice skating and the cool CDs we bought. Ahh, the good life.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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