The adventures and accomplishments of the passengers on The Audacity of Hope are many and varied. We did so much. We practically defied a basic principle of physics that asserts that one cannot be in two places at one time. And yet...I have a memory of being in Athens’ Syntagma Square rallying with the people of Greece while, at the same time, being with the “Fasters” across from the United States Embassy--singing and chanting.
I am still filled with the electricity generated by the power of standing and demonstrating in solidarity with the people of Greece whose government has largely forsaken them. Everything was happening so fast! Sparks of Revolution were everywhere. We were all moving, moving, moving from our boat to various meetings in four or five different locations, through the mazes of the Metro and the amazing streets of Athens and Parama and Piraeus...And so it seemed as if we were in meetings and marching simultaneously--in defiance of natural law!
This morning, here in Santa Fe, I am sifting through all the actions I can recall from those weeks in Greece--as well as through all the emotions I'm feeling about those extraordinary days with the remarkable people who are part of The International Flotilla to Gaza. No, we didn't get to Gaza. No, we didn't break Israel's illegal blockade. However, we did get our thousands of messages of love and solidarity to the people of Gaza. And we brought to the attention of the World the untenable situation that exists for the Palestinians. Sadly, the gentle mission of our wonderful boat was thwarted again and again by "unknown" forces---evil, greedy and paranoid forces. Okay, they must not go unnamed. I will name them: the Israeli government and their political supporters and miscellaneous lackeys abroad--including my government.
My government! I remember how proud I once was to be a citizen of the United States of America. That was long ago, when I was a child...long, long ago when I was taught that the definition of "propaganda" was the persuasive, misleading lies that bad governments (enemies) spouted. We (the great and honorable USA) told the truth and the bad guys lied. I am understandably less naive today and I realize that we (or more precisely, certain powerful forces in our government) are the bad guys. I know this deep in my heart. We are not the only bad guys but we surely rank near the top of the list.
Our boat was prevented from sailing for no valid reason.
While still in the harbor, we were forceably turned back by menacing commandos on Greek vessels. We read the reports that Israel issued stating that the human rights passengers on our little boat were carrying sulfuric acid--which, they claimed, we were planning to throw on the Israeli Naval Forces if The Audacity of Hope was stopped from proceeding to its intended destination. The US Embassy gave only nervous, superficial, impotent lip service to our Delegation when we respectfully requested a statement of safe passage for our voyage. My saddest, most disheartening fears were realized: Human Rights and Peace and Justice are not the true interests and issues of my government, of most governments. Money and Power---those are the issues that our Embassies support and protect. These facts burned and turned into a revised mission on land: Peaceful Demonstrations.
We demonstrated for the release of Captain John, who was arrested and charged with embarking from port without permission and endangering the passengers on our boat. Despite numerous requests for assistance from our Consulate, none was forthcoming. Captain John remained in jail with no visit from anyone in the Embassy. This was inexplicable to those who believed (obviously mistakenly) that part of the mandate of the US Consulate was the aid and protection of Americans in distress abroad! Captain John was experiencing distress!
We could not bear to stand by idly and so we staged some protests. Non-violent, peaceful, chanting, sign-holding protests. Some of us began a fast and a sit-in/sleep-in at the Embassy. After most of a day of peaceful fasting and sign-holding and sleeping, the Greek police took us to jail. They were just following orders, they said. We sang scores of songs in the police headquarters and eventually we were released (I don't think it was because of our singing ability---some of our harmonizing was quite excellent!). It was after 3am when I got back to my hotel. Next day: continued disappointment that no help was forthcoming from our Embassy. And so, more demonstrations, more fasting...
On the third of July, my friend Senator Tom Udall made a personal call to Ambassador Daniel Smith in Greece on our behalf to check on the status and condition of Captain John. By e-mail I learned that the Ambassador had conveyed to the Senator that he was aware of the situation and everything was being handled. Really? That certainly was not the case as we saw it. And so, a few of the fasters (and friends of fasters---for by now I had had a Greek salad!) decided to go to the Ambassador’s house.
It was the 4th of July. Independence Day!
There were six of us. We had a few small signs and an American flag. Four members sat across from the entrance to the Ambassador’s house in a small park filled with feral cats. Ray McGovern (a retired CIA Analyst and Vietnam Veteran) and I held hands and crossed the street . We did not speak with the military-garbed men in the small guard house adjacent to the big metal gates in front of the residence. We went straight to the residence and rang the doorbell. Two Brinks guards appeared.
“Good afternoon,” I offered, “ I am Linda Durham from Santa Fe, New Mexico and this is Ray McGovern from Arlington, Virginia. We’d like to speak with Ambassador Smith.”
“That is not possible.”
“I think he may be expecting me to call on him. I know Senator Tom Udall spoke with him and mentioned that I was here in Athens.”
“You must make an appointment at the Embassy.”
"Yes, we did try that…unsuccessfully...but it’s the Fourth of July. We’d just like a few minutes to speak with him.”
This conversation went back and forth and nowhere…
Meanwhile, the four other members of our visiting party were quietly holding up a few signs (LET FREEDOM RING, FREE GAZA...) while sitting in front of the bright orange Audacity of Hope life preserver ring that was one of our props at the fasting site. After a few more unsuccessful exchanges with the Brinks puppet men, we were told to move back from the gate to permit a large black SUV to enter the compound. Ray spoke to the black tinted windows.
“Is that you Mr. Ambassador? May we have a word with you?”
“Are you too cowardly to speak with us?!” He challenged.
At that utterance, the police/secret service pounced on him. They almost knocked him over! They forced him to the other side of the street while I remained in front of the closed gate---very near the doorbell. I watched as the guard patrol tested for explosives under the SUV. And I watched as the inner gates opened revealing a disappearing protective barrier and a beautiful garden and winding driveway. I rang the doorbell again. Mean-looking plainclothesmen scurried from one mysterious door to another. They didn’t look at me.
I turned to check on my fellow fasters and saw that they were being shoved and forced and partially carried towards a veritable "flotilla" of waiting patrol cars. Carol, Ridgely, Debra, Ray, and Ken were agreeing to leave---but No! The police--and an assortment of strong armed tall guys in dark clothes--were demanding that the peaceful group get in the cars. I started back across the street and two big men grabbed me...
Cont'd in: Arresting Scenerio | Part II