The war zone explodes at the intersection of Fourth and San Benito streets this day at the 2014 Rally. Crossing lights blink yellow, randomly yielding the cross-over to “no-man’s land.” Miraculously, civility makes the prowling police un-needed. As cyclists patiently await a turn, gunning their engines, strolling adventurers cross safely. Only then do the riders bolt away with a growl of engines. Overpowering music from nearby speakers provides notes and beat to the whirr and roar.
My friends and I are the weekly corner people who plead for peace. Each year as our Fridays coincide with the motorcycle people in July, we reconnect. My flag-like red and white outfit matches me well with the celebrants. I find support at the corner of a barricade rail and enjoy its protection, displaying my sign calling for “Peace Studies.” Our country knows how to make war but knows much less about making peace.
Nearby stands John, next to the protection of the signal pole. John’s plea reads, “Another Vet for Peace.” Franz’s poster shows a rippling flag and makes me want to hum “Forever in Peace May It Wave.” So there we stand, a pocket of peace protected amid explosions of engines and music. Unexpectedly, this noise becomes a celebration as cyclists parading happily with their partners and pets proudly display their vehicles. Their perky dogs easily balance on the seats and snug boxes. Many walkers display artistic tattoos plus colorful costumes and jewelry. “Uncle Sam” and “The Statue of Liberty” give me a supply of American flags for distribution. Theatrically painted young women barely clad in shorts and blouses show off tattoos then ask John for a photo.
One of my photo ops proves extra special as a pleasant young man asks if we are a group or work as individuals. I say, “This is our 13th year standing up for peace on Hollister corners.” Surprised, he tells me he and his group are very interested in this peace movement as he was born in Iran. He disappears into the crowd and noise.
Shortly, and crossing directly in my line of sight, strides a young many clad in military fatigues, a heavily decorated scarf cuddling his neck. I could easily recognize the Confederate flag as he pauses to ask directly in my ear, “What if your opponent points a gun at you?” I quickly answer, “You negotiate, negotiate, talk, talk, talk and talk some more.” He goes on, “What about this ‘good’ war for independence?” I come back, “At that time England was abolishing slavery, which meant as English colonists we had to abolish it also. The slave ships sailing into our northern ports were highly profitable and fueled our economy.” “Good!” he interrupts. But I press on, “We wanted this highly profitable slave trade to continue. To do that, we needed independence from England. Our fight was FOR slavery.” At that, he disappears into the crowd.
Later an attractive young Asian woman touches my arm for attention; she wants a photo. She guides me partially across the street to where her ride waits astride his motorcycle. To my surprise, this young rider is my new friend, the Iranian. She memorializes the moment on one of those miraculous tiny cameras. Although some cyclists wear black helmets spiked with spears, overall the celebratory mood seems muted with an undercurrent of gentleness and yearning for peace.
Ironically, I observe no African-American in the mix of celebrants. In reality, this freedom and independence is not for them, never was. Our independence from England brought continuation of the slave trade with all its oppression and cruelty. Why should they celebrate? Since then we have never made peace with African-Americans.