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News ::
9/23: 1,500+ Rally for Peace in Copley Square
24 Sep 2001
Modified: 25 Sep 2001
On 9/23/01, in Copley Square between 1,500 and 2,000 people attended an amazing rally for peace and tolerance from 12:30-3:00. In this depressing, frightening time of war-mongering and hatred, it was uplifting, with speeches, songs, poems and prayers by a multi-ethnic, multi-religious group of speakers and performers.
1,500+ Rally for Peace in Copley Square
by Matthew Williams

Sunday, September 23, 2001; Boston, MA, USA--Today in Copley Square between 1,500 and 2,000 people attended an amazing rally for peace from 12:30-3:00. In this depressing, frightening time of war-mongering and hatred, it was uplifting, with speeches, songs, poems and prayers by a multi-ethnic, multi-religious group of speakers and performers. We were speaking out for peace and tolerance, speaking out against the drive for war in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11 and against the wave of racism and religious bigotry sweeping the nation in its wake.

It was a bright sunny day. Colorful placards and banners calling for peace dotted the crowd. Among them were signs reading “Justice Not War; let us not become the evil we deplore” and “Retaliate with World Peace”. People began gathering at 12:30 when the vigil had been originally scheduled to begin; the starting time had later been moved to 1:00. The many prayers, songs, poems and heart-felt speeches for peace created a powerful atmosphere. It was one of the most uplifting, beautiful rallies I have ever been at. Most stayed until 3:00, long after the rally was supposed to end.

The rally was MCed by Merrie Najimy, a Christian Lebanese-American woman with the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights (BCPR), who lost a close friend in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Referring to the many signs in the rally, she said, “Some are slogans of mourning, standing in sympathy with those lost loved ones in the attacks. Some in solidarity with the Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who are bearing the brunt of their neighbors’ wrath and those who will bear the brunt of global retaliation.”

Renowned progressive historian Howard Zinn warned, “A war supposedly against terrorism will itself be terrorism. War in these times always involves the indiscriminate killing of civilians. We have to call that terrorism.” He reminded people that the US’s foreign and economic policy has caused much suffering and misery in many countries--and much resentment as a result. Turning to the roots of the conflict, he said, “There’s no security in violence. If there is going to be security against terrorism, there has to be security against poverty and racism.”

Lynn Courier, a Native American of the Pentacook Nation, said, “If you are Native, you have two reactions to September 11. One is deep pain for the innocent people who died. The second is, ‘Now America knows what it’s like to be Indian.’ Unless we root out the imperialistic and racist worldviews that have been here since Columbus, we will not have peace.”

Rima Amira, an Afghani woman who fled here as a political refugee and is now a student at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Diplomacy, said, “There are five million Afghan refugees all over the world from twenty years of war. Afghanistan is not Osama bin Laden or the Taliban. Afghanistan is a victim of terrorists.”

Amira also spoke of the climate of fear among Middle Easterners living in the US: “It feels like Afghanistan here now.”

Much of the life of the rally came from the strong artistic element. Poems by Pablo Neruda were read, as well as excerpts from the Peace Poem, written by children worldwide, each contributing two lines. There were also performances of a Yiddish labor movement song and a folk song. The Rev. Frank Small led the crowd in singing, “Amazing Grace.”

The rally also had a strong spiritual element, with members of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and Native American traditions sharing their prayers, reading from their scriptures, or simply speaking from their hearts. Some Cambodian Buddhist monks, who have been living in America since 1975, said, “What happened last week was an evil act. We should not be drawn to more evil acts.” Then, reading from the Dhammapada, one of Buddhism’s scriptural books, they read, “Violence is never overcome by violence, but by nonviolence and love alone.”

Two Jewish speakers echoed this sentiment. Toranah Fischman read from the Torah, “Do not judge others unfairly. Do not hate others in your heart. Do not take vengeance. Love your neighbor as yourself, for I am God.” Rabbi Marty Federman, reading from the Jewish liturgy, reminded all that God does “not wish the sinner to die but to repent.”

Ravindar Singh, a Sikh, criticized the mainstream media coverage of the terrorist attacks: “We are here today to heal and reflect. Such an opportunity has not been provided by the media. The media has been trying to inflame our passions and the desire for revenge.”

Speaking of the goals of the peace movement, Najimy said, “We must work together towards our best humanity and help others to reach theirs to end the cycle of violence.” Barbara Schulman, a Jewish woman with the BCPR, said, “What we must build is no less to than a movement to rebuild the world, to create a beloved community of global citizens.”

Zinn said, “There has been a lot of talk about unity. We must not be united around violence and war. We must not all stand behind the President.” He insisted that, “It is not patriotic to support your government whatever it does. Mark Twain”--a critic of America’s empire-building abroad in his own day--“said patriotism is to think independently about your country and the ideals it is supposed to stand for. All people all over the world have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Schulman spoke about trying to build a peace movement now. She reminded everyone that, to reach people, now more than ever, “We must act not from our rhetoric but our compassion.” She also said that despite the current climate of war fever, “There is space for our voices because people are asking themselves life’s deepest questions. We must add one--about our ignorance of what our government does in our name” in its foreign policy.

For those who would like to help organize for peace and tolerance, there are several opportunities. Vigils will be held every Tuesday in Copley Square from 6:00-7:00. Afterwards at 7:15, there will be organizing meetings across the street at the Community Church of Boston, at 565 Boylston St. For more information, contact the American Friends Service Committee at 617-661-6130 or afscnero (at) The vigils and other events are being organized by a broad coalition of peace, anti-racist, global justice and other progressive groups.

Anyone who has been harassed by the police or FBI because of their ethnicity or religion, or simply has questions about their legal rights, should contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at 617-482-3170. There is also an effort to provide nonviolent escorts and defense for Middle Easterners, South Asians, Muslims and Sikhs who fear being attacked; Jason Pramas is organizing the Boston Nonviolent Support Network, and may be reached at 617-338-9966.

(My apologies if I mangled the spelling of anyone’s names.)
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Excellent article!
25 Sep 2001
A great piece--thanks a lot. One small correction on a person's name--I believe that it's the Reverend Fred Small, not Frank Small, who led Amazing Grace.

Did others feel thhat the 1500-person estimate was accurate? I also heard 500 from a few people. Either way, it's great.