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As we walked into Manchester’s Veterans Park, where yesterday’s Black Lives Matter march would begin, the first person we saw up close was a white man carrying a large rifle.  He was approached right away by Matt Lawrence, one of the activists who had volunteered to be peacekeepers (or “ushers”) for the march.

Organizers of the march had asked people not to bring weapons, Matt calmly explained.  The rifle-bearing man said he was there to help the police with security.  He would be joined by others openly carrying weapons throughout the next two hours. 

As the Back Lives Matter crowd swelled to more than 200, the number of counter-demonstrators grew as well.  By the end, a group of men who were apparently members of a motorcycle club were attempting to goad activists into heated arguments about whether or not “all lives matter.” 

Several members of Manchester’s police department stood by, generally on the edges of the crowd. 

For the duration, a small group of peacekeepers, identified by their white arm-bands, kept an eye on the counter-demonstrators, often walking and chatting with them.  At other times they placed themselves between the two groups as way to provide a buffer, diffuse tensions, and discourage the anti-racism activists from engaging in the types of heated arguments that could have easily escalated into violent conflict that would put lives at risk and interfere with the march’s purpose.

Given the recent events in Dallas and provocative statements from the city’s police chief, this was not an idle concern. 

By the time we left at about 9 pm, most of the demonstrators and counter-demonstrators had already departed.  Two activists were still arguing in a generally calm manner with a young woman carrying a large rifle.  But by then it was clear that the march had successfully created an opportunity for people to express outrage against the pattern of police killings of Black people.  Participants, many of them young, felt the strength of people coming together in a call for change.  It was loud, spirited, and peaceful, which had been the organizers’ intent. 

A few observations:

First, it was constructive for the organizers to be clear that the march was intended to be peaceful and to post guidelines on Facebook:

-if confronted by a counter protestor or violent person, remain calm and peaceful and try to keep moving

-if someone comes at you with their fists, weapon, etc, step back and call for one of the ushers to take control of the situation until law enforcement arrives

The explicit guidelines made it easier for peacekeepers to do their jobs.

Second, peacekeepers demonstrated several techniques that proved to be effective. 

– Talk one-on-one with people who appear hostile.  Introduce yourself.  Try to make a human connection.  Keep them busy talking to you. 

– Remind activists that the purpose of the action is best served by refusing to take the bait from hostile counter-demonstrators looking for a fight. 

– Stay calm and help others do the same.

In a Facebook post after the march, Alex Fried reflected on peacekeeper training he had received several years ago.  “I’ve never had to use the skills I gained in that training until tonight,” he wrote.  “I went up to one of them and introduced myself. I kept my hands open and in front of me at all times. We shook hands and spent the march together. I talked with him about his life, his political opinions, his childhood growing up in NH, and his job working for a weapons manufacturer. As much as possible we kept the armed protesters separate from the march.”

I’ve seen plenty of counter-demonstrators over the years, but last night is the first time I’ve seen them show up with weapons.  If that’s a sign of things to come, let’s get more peacekeepers trained.  

 

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Love is caring, Woullard Lett told a group gathered this morning in Mmanchester 2-15-14 075anchester at the Love Your Neighbor Valentine’s Day Breakfast, held at the Puritan  Backroom.  “Caring requires doing something,” he emphasized, in other words: action.  And action has to be at the institutional and personal levels, he said. 

Manchester’s Love Your Neighbor project was inspired by one with the same name a few miles north in Concord.  The capital city’s project was created by New American Africans as a community response to racist graffiti scrawled on the homes of African refugee families. 

Manchester hasn’t faced that exact problem, but the state’s biggest city is home to immigrants and refugees from all over the world and the hand of welcome has not been universally extended.  

The Manchester group got started a few months back. Today’s breakfast was their second public event. 

In addition to Woullard Lett, other speakers were Geraldine “Mama G” Karega, Andrew Smith of the US Department of Justice, and  Susan Yen.  

manchester 2-15-14 088Spark the Dream performed a dance and a song.  Mike Morin served as emcee. 

Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee presented Outstanding Neighbor Awards to Mick and  Marcia Lorang, Tika Acharya, and Isabelle Valmont.  Mayor Ted Gatsas and Bud Fitch from the office of US Senator Kelly Ayotte were there, as well, to add their commendations to the excellent community volunteers.

My favorite moment was when Simfora Bangasimbo, one of the Spark the Dream members, said it’s not enough to love  your neighbor.  “You have to love your neighbor’s neighbor’s neighbor.”  When love gets extended beyond the people closest to us, then we’re talking about the institutional changes Woullard Lett called for. 

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manchester 4-9-13 008 

Forty faith, labor, and community activists prayed, sang, and protested outside Manchester’s Federal Building this afternoon to express outrage about recmanchester 4-9-13 019cropent actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in area homes and  businesses.

ICE agents entered a Nashua home in the wee hours of Sunday morning, roused residents from their beds, and took away two men in shackles.  The men had no criminal remanchester 4-9-13 040cropcords and were released by ICE on Monday, according to a Nashua Telegraph report.  

Also Sunday, a squad of ICE and local police officers entered the El Mexicano Jr. restaurant in Manchester, took away two  customers, asked other customers for ID, and threatened to return. 

The ICE actions reveal a frightening contrast to policies that manchester 4-9-13 044are supposed to place priority on people who could be considered threats to public safety and leave others alone.  The home raid also appears to violate terms of a recent federal court order which bars ICE from warrantless searches.   

Outside the Norris Cotton Federal Building, participants expressed outrage at ICE’s abusive actions.  They also said they will call on the state’s members of Congress to help rein in Imanchester 4-9-13 047CE and act speedily to approve humane immigration policies. 

Nancy Pape, chair of the NH  United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group led the group in a prayer.  Members of the Smanchester 4-9-13 024isters of Mercy  led another.  The program included a rousing rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved” in Spanish and English, and concluded with “We Shall Overcome.”

The demonstration was organized in a day by the American manchester 4-9-13 033 Friends Service Committee, NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, and others involved in support for immigrants’ rights and humane immigration policy,

Activists plan to meet up again at the State House Plaza in Concord on May 1, International Workers Day.  

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