On Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 18, 2013, about 20 people - from the Granny Peace Brigade (GPB), World Can't Wait, KnowDrones.org, Mary House (the Catholic Worker House in NYC) and Concerned Families of Westchester County - gathered in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City to witness on behalf of the 15 Yemeni wedding-goers who were killed by a US drone six days earlier.
I brought a replica of the MQ-9 Reaper drone, one of the work horses of US drone killing, and as I carried the replica parts to be assembled in front of the cathedral, I was so heartened to see such a long line of witnesses. Most were from the GPB, and the yellow smocks the Grannies wear at protests gave the line a heightened presence and assertion in the midst of a scene that was about anything but why we were there.
As the attached photos show, many, many people passed in front of us, with a fair number actively avoiding conversation and flyers, even when some of us approached them. Although we were in front of one of the most renown houses of worship in the United States, and maybe the world, the atmosphere had no hint of spiritual intention. St. Patrick's is in the heart of one of the most famous, some might say infamous, shopping districts in America, and the prevailing energy had to do with commerce, sight-seeing and rushing, constant rushing, rushing of souls flashing by pre-occupied with immediate demands. Yemen, the drone dead and their families were galaxies away.
The most pronounced, kindest evidence of a spiritual inspiration came from the NYC policeman who approached us when we gathered to begin the vigil. He said he had been advised that we would be protesting, that we were free to stand on the broad sidewalk in front of the cathedral and that, if we wished, the police would, cordon off our spot, an offer we declined. I have never experienced a policeman being welcoming in this way or to be so pleasant. Conversely, when one of us went into the cathedral office to ask if someone might copy some additional flyers for us, he was told no and asked who gave us permission to be there anyway. (Flyer attached)
We arrived at 1:00 pm and left at 2:30, when we ran out of the 200 plus fliers. The end of the flyers was welcome in a way because the cold was beginning to establish a beachhead under our layers of clothing.
In terms of impact, I know that a man in his early 50's from Long Island, accompanied by his wife and children, was very interested in what we were doing, very sympathetic, and stood around for sometime. I also found several passersby wanting to take a flyer, and two said they would definitely Facebook Pope Francis when I told them we were encouraging people to ask him to condemn drone warfare and drone surveillance. I know others in our group had similar small signs of success, and I left feeling that at least for the time we were there we were honoring, and in some way praying for, those who had been killed in Yemen and for those who loved them.