Along Chapel Street Wednesday afternoon, people dressed in “blood”-covered bandages fell to the ground amid the piercing sounds of air-raid sirens, aiming to create the feeling of a war zone.
Some people who witnessed the scene rushed anxiously into buildings fearing a real emergency. However, the scene was the creation of a group of demonstrators opposed to the conflict in Iraq.
For approximately an hour yesterday afternoon, the ad-hoc group of about a dozen demonstrators took to the streets to protest. They simulated air-raid sirens with a megaphone and fell “dead” in the middle of crosswalks and along the sidewalk. They lay in the crosswalks during red lights, rising from the ground to allow cars to pass. In the background, one protester spoke about the casualties in Iraq as onlookers both praised and condemned the demonstration.
“It was designed to provoke an emotional response ,” protester Peter Gilbert said. “In addition, we also provided the factual response.”
According to the group, an issue of contention for them is that the general public is not aware of Iraqi casualties. The group hoped to try and make people more informed.
“The press has done a great job of making war look like a video game,” Gilbert said. “We wanted to bring home the horror of war.”
Protest organizer Jake Weinstein said the protest gave the group a chance to act in what he feels is a powerless situation.
“People are dying, and I’m furious. It’s so easy to feel powerless,” Weinstein said. “One thing we can do is get out on the street and start to act. It may be a trivial thing, but it also involves the healing power of the theater.”
The demonstration moved down Chapel Street, ending on the steps of the U.S. District Courthouse on Church Street.
A police officer eventually told the group they could not remain in the crosswalks because it was considered disorderly conduct. The demonstration then continued using only the sidewalk.
One observer, who would only give his name as Nairobi, said he was interested in learning more about different perspectives on the war.
“I feel misled, and that I’m not informed about the great many casualties of the Iraqi people,” he said. “I’m eager to get my hands on some information. So many people are totally oblivious to the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people.”
However, not all observers greeted the protest as warmly as Nairobi. Shouts of “You’re going to hell” and “Get a job” were heard from passing vehicles. Some people asked the protesters if they were aware of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and whether they had lost any family members. As the protest passed by the Vanderbilt Hall construction site, workers began chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.!”
Protester Phil Haskell said people should not deny the suffering of the Iraqi people.
“The number of Iraqi women and children who bombed the World Trade Center — zero,” he said.
Weinstein said he thought the negative commentary from passersby was actually a positive thing, as it showed the protest was affecting them.
“It’s good to have such an emotional response even if they’re disagreeing,” he said. “They can sit back and act like people are not dying, but this is a portrayal of what’s going on.”
Haskell said the group has no official name. However, organizers Weinstein and John Lugo were part of a group called Cirque Burgos. Although that group is currently defunct, they may be starting up again. He said the group has done some political work over the years and did a lot of street theater to protest the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America.