NEW YORK — 140 East 45th Street is the temporary home of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. It has been the site of protests and civil disobedience in recent years as activists attempt to communicate directly with their government. On the evening of Tuesday, January 13, peace activists assembled at the mission to light candles for the fallen of Gaza: 940, including hundreds of women and children, at the time of the vigil.
United for Peace and Justice, CodePINK, Peace Action of New York State, the American Friends Service Committee, World Without Wars and other groups held the candlelight vigil to demand the U.S. join the international call for a ceasefire in the Gaza strip. The groups also demanded “unimpeded humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza,” arguing that, “there is no military solution to the crisis in Gaza, Iraq or Afghanistan. A negotiated settlement is the only way to end the death and suffering.”
Shortly after 5 p.m. the police arrived in force — just as protesters began to populate the sidewalk outside the corporate building that houses the U.S. Mission.
As the number of protesters increased,the NYPD moved the crowd into a protest pen on the opposite side of the street. This turned out to beneficial to the vigilers, as the passing traffic was forced to slow down — the pen extended out from the curb into the middle of 45th Street — and drivers strained to read the candlelit signs and banners. As this reporter walked the length of the pen shooting video, the crowd began to sing Study War No More — offering a dramatic scene to passing motorists and pedestrians.
Organizers were pleased with the turnout. Judith LeBlanc of UFPJ NYC told NLN that she counted 225 vigilers — and that vigil organizers had given out 150 candles. A number of participants had brought their own equipment and seven day candles stood shoulder to shoulder with the shabbat variety.
Towards the end of the action, Cheryl Wertz, of Peace Action New York, called for a moment of silence. After the memorial moment had passed, she read aloud a letter to Condoleeza Rice written by the vigil organizers and signed by those present. As the vigil ended, participants shook hands and many headed off to a townhall meeting on the Gaza massacre organized by the World Can’t Wait — an uptown conference that featured actress Vanessa Redgrave, journalist Chris Hedges and Cynthia McKinney, the Green Party candidate for the presidency in 2008. Wertz walked over to the U.S. Mission to deliver the letter.
[ As this story goes to press, the BBC is reporting that the number of Palestinian deaths from the Israeli attacks on Gaza has surpassed 1000 -- with 315 of those killed being children. -- Editor ]