As Marilyn Churley exhorts the crowd to form a peace sign in front of City Hall to cheer nuclear-free Mayor David Miller, I open and read randomly from the Qur'an I received from the Islamists stationed at Yonge and Dundas as the Peace March passed by: "And we turned (the cities) upside down."
Well, we didn't exactly. Still, the March 17 demonstration to Stop the War(s), across from the U.S. Consulate, was large enough to thoroughly confuse the St. Patrick's Day crowd.
When I arrive on University, a rep from a group called the Third Camp Against U.S. Militarism and Islamic Terrorism speaks into an unofficial microphone powered by a generator they brought themselves, outlining the dual threat to Iran from both Western and Islamic extremists. As they describe the division of Iraq into tribes and religions, invited speakers are being called to the stage over the rally's sound system.
Iranian-born Niaz Salimi, founding member of the Canadian Muslim Union, says, "Democracy does not fall from the sky and does not kill children.' Several speakers point out Canada's simultaneous cuts to childcare and boosts in military spending. NDP MP Peggy Nash proudly states that, if Jack Layton is "Taliban Jack," so-called by the Conservatives because he favours negotiating with the insurgents, then she is Taliban Peggy.
One speaker urges a boycott of Chapters and Indigo because of majority shareholders Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz's bizarre Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers, which offers scholarships to former Israeli Defense Force soldiers who come from outside the country and don't have family in Israel.
Speechifying concluded, or temporarily abated, it's time to march to City Hall. Not a lot of luck getting "George Bush, we know you. Your daddy was a killer, too" to catch on. Everyone seems entranced by the sound of drums and chants that aren't in English. A unicyclist juggling three pins valiantly provides some travelling solo street theatre.
On Yonge Street, people on the sidewalks look a bit dazed. No Nukes. Stop the War. What a weird start to an Irish pub night. A store features Stare at My Shamrocks T-shirts. A couple of shoppers slam into me as we turn onto Queen. They're not missin' their green light for nobody. Ah, the people. Two boys in big pants tag along for a while just because it's fun to yell in the street.
At Nathan Phillips Square, it's too late to Iascend the ramp to see what shape the planned human peace sign will take. Police are blocking the way, helpfully suggesting the walkway near the skating rink. Did no one think of a skate-in? A little bunch of colourful punks is the life of the party. Drums and horns are playing in the centre of the forming peace sign, and the punkers are kicking up their heels. Stop the Party! Time for more speeches in the Peace Sign Ceremony.
Quaker Lyn Adamson urges the establishment of a Department of Peace. Councillor Joe Mihevc reads Toronto's 25-year-old nuclear-free declaration. Audrey Tobias, who was in the navy in the second world war, represents vets against nukes and calls the fact that the world has not yet been destroyed by a computer or human malfunction a "miracle."But, hey, this is a nuke-free zone!
The Raging Grannies sing about Hiroshima in an approximation of the Japanese tune Sakura (Cherry Trees).
Evidently, the Humanists who organized the human peace symbol part of the demo have no marshals or border collies to herd the participants into line. No aerial view is required to spot the gaps. It's a lopsided effort that Toronto is offering as people in cities all over the world stand together in a show of solidarity.
"Take a few deep breaths. Leave aside tensions in your mind. Take a moment to locate within you the situation or person with whom you have tension.... Make a decision to begin anew today," advises Humanist Roberto Verdecchia, whose speaking style reminds me of a priest's.
When the speeches are over, he says, the human chain can become a "dancing peace sign." That's exactly what it was before The Ceremony began broadcasting. Now one of the punk tribe in a sheet painted with "Smart Kids or Smart Bombs? Put Your Money Where The Future Is" has hopped away with his friends.
I see them later on the street, still carrying placards, each bright and bushy-tailed one of them a little dancing peace sign too lively to be contained by words.