Not in My Name Peace Vigil

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Three days after the mass murder in New York, Chicago Jewish-based organisation Not In My Name (NIMN) took to the streets with a message of hope. Cindy Levitt was part of it.



After the tragedy of Tuesday September 11, 2001, the leadership of NIMN wondered whether or not we should hold our weekly vigil on Michigan Avenue. Since March 23 we have been standing together from noon till one each Friday afternoon, sometimes with as few as six of us; sometimes with many more. We have not missed a week. Our message has consistently been "Chicago Jews Say End the Israeli Occupation." We distribute about 200 informational flyers to the passing public each week. Often we have our Palestinian, Muslim and Christian allies join us.



We knew our message today needed to be different. Some members said we should cancel the vigil and wait to see how things developed. Others felt that now, more than ever, we needed to be public with our views. With the anti-Arab and anti- Muslim racism rearing its ugly head in Chicago the last few days we wanted to stand together with the Arab American community here. NIMN participated in a press conference on Wednesday with approximately 15 othercommunity groups and organizations at the American Friends Service Committee's offices. Our message was to urge people not to scapegoat the Arab and Muslim communities and to send the message that we all stood with them in solidarity.



It was with this in mind that Not in my Name decided to go ahead and have our vigil and to invite as many others to join us as possible from all faith groups. We knew that the president had declared Friday a day of Prayer and Remembrance. Mayor Daley wanted the city of Chicago to come together at noon for city-wide gatherings. Last night I found out that our weekly vigil location was one of two designated by the Mayor for people to gather. We knew we'd have a crowd to deal with and that made me a bit nervous for our safety. Would we be jeered? Would people try to attack us? We had people joining us for the first time. Would they find us in a large crowd?



Our messages were to be simple. We had signs in English, Hebrew and Arabic reading: "Arabs and Jews: We Refuse to Be Enemies"



We also had signs with the following:

a.. "We Stand Together to Mourn the Loss of Innocent People: We are Jews, Muslims, and Christians Together"








b.. "Let's Support Each other in this Difficult Time-After All, Americans are Black, White, Jewish, Irish, Italian,

Muslim, Christian, Arab, Asian, African, Latino, Buddhist, etc. etc. etc."



c.. "We are a Multi-Ethnic, Multi-Religious Community in Mourning for those who lost their lives. We are against scapegoating the Arab and Muslim Communities." Joel, Veva and I arrived at our usual spot at 11:30 and a crowd was already forming. The sidewalks were filled with throngs of office workers and people from all walks of life who were heading toward Tribune Plaza. A Chicago police officer wanted to know about us, and who we were when he saw us arrive with armloads of posters. He asked us to move to a different location and stayed with us for the vigil. I tried to go back and forth to our usual spot to direct other NIMN people to our new location. I only found two more people and finally gave up as the space got too crowded to move about. Several of our NIMN regulars were there and some new people joined us. We picked up our signs. The crowd spilled onto Michigan Ave. and the streets filled up, cars not moving. Some people were standing on the medians dividing the streets. I looked skyward to the bright blue sunny sky and I saw people looking out of the windows in their office buildings.



In order to have our signs seen, some of us held them high above our heads. It was too close for many to see what our messages were. We were too far from the sound system to hear very well. The program was piped in from the main rally in Daley Plaza. There was a moment of silence, singing God Bless America and the National Anthem. I'm not sure what else was said by Chicago's dignitaries.




It was difficult to tell what people were thinking reading our signs. I don't like huge crowds and was feeling a bit vulnerable when people cheered at a passing fire truck with sirens blazing. Had something happened or were they part of the city's plan. When someone in the crowd started a chant "USA, USA.." no one really picked up on it so he fell silent.



When the program ended at about 12:15 people started leaving the area and many passed before us. Suddenly people were able to see our messages. We had enough people by then so that most of our signs were used. We spread out in a line and you could watch the faces of people going by trying to read the signs.




Suddenly someone came over to us, gave the first person in line a big hug and then went down the entire line hugging each and every one of us and thanking us. Then someone else followed suit. And then it was as if we were at a wedding receiving line, with one after another waiting their turn to travel down the line. Some were crying as they hugged and thanked us. Some said, "God Bless you!!" "This is just what I needed to see." "You have restored my faith!" "I feel hope again." We received so many wonderful hugs and such positive energy.


I responded to each person that I appreciated him or her coming over to us. I mentioned that we had to support each other through this tragic time and keep our hearts open and full of  compassion. When I looked at our group I saw African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Quakers, multi-racial, multi-ethnic folks, Christians; in short a very multicultural mix of people with a common message. One woman spoke to me of her parents, one of whom is Jewish and the other Muslim.



It was a surreal afternoon. Not one negative comment.



At one point, someone commented to Veva that they were so impressed that the Arabic signs were at our end of the Plaza while the Hebrew ones were at the other. Veva then went to find that 10-15 more people from NIMN had been gathered at our usual spot. So we were happily re-united and spoke of our experience of being separated. People continued to stop and speak with us. Caise had brought yellow roses for us to hold so he passed those out. We had decided not to distribute any of our usual literature today but we did have some of our "About NIMN" flyers with us that we gave out to those that want.



Then came the press. Suddenly, we were surrounded but camera crews, national, local, Spanish language and even MTV for Real World. I gave several interviews including CLTV news, which aired live. I was able to make a statement, while holding my sign flanked by two of our Palestinian allies, emphasizing the need to stand together with Muslims and Arab Americans right now against harassment, violence and racism. And to emphasize our shared grief.



As people wandered away and we had time to pack up the posters I looked over and saw Khalid and Caise praying. They didn't have time to reach the mosque for one o’clock prayers since they had stayed with us. Stacy mentioned that she was standing nearby to watch out for them. I joined her and asked several others to stand with us. The Plaza by then was rather empty but I was still concerned that someone seeing Palestinians kneeling and praying might react negatively.










And I was feeling rather protective. So it seemed a fitting end of the day to have a group of Jews insuring that our Muslim friends could pray in peace and safety in the United States of America. I am hopeful that out of this tragedy we will find our common humanity and embrace a multicultural, diverse America.

This article originally appeared at www.nimn.org