Friday, October 13, 2006

Mourning, Organizing, Organized Mourning

Yesterday marked the debut of the American Friends Service Committee’s “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit in Colorado Springs. Intended to commemorate Iraq war deaths, the exhibit features 2700 pairs of boots, one for each fallen U.S. soldier, lined up in Arlington-style rows. Nearby there are photographs of the civilian devastation and winding paths made from pairs of non-military shoes, each representing a known Iraqi death. Every pair of shoes or boots has a name tag, and the number of “name unknown” tags on the Iraqi side is disturbing. The stories of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians are posted next to some of the pairs of shoes and at information tables. Some survivors of soldiers seem to be using this exhibit the way people have used the Vietnam Memorial, and some of the pairs of boots bear small mementos that have accumulated as the exhibit has traveled. There are also photographs, journals, and ephemera of the dead on display.

Colorado College is hosting the event, because the Colorado Springs City Council voted not to allow it in a public park, a fact which today’s Gazette article fails to mention. The general consensus on the City Council seems to have been that this display seeks to undermine the “War on Terror.” So public mourning now happens in privatized space. A thousand points of light, eh? Although I’m proud to be associated with the institution that agreed to host the exhibit, I’m also disappointed. I haven’t lived here long, but I already get the sense that too many things that fall under the rubric of “peace and justice” are centered on this boutique-ish little college, at a time when outreach in communities like Colorado Springs is desperately needed.

Last night I went to a candlelight vigil at the exhibit. Although volunteers said they were happy with the number of visitors they had received, the vigil itself was sparsely attended. After a brief reading and a speech by a CC freshman who is serving in the Air Force and who recently lost a friend who was serving in Iraq, we were called to walk through the boots and meditate. As we did so, I noticed security guards chasing away a fox who, I later learned, had tried to make off with a pair of shoes. CC’s security guards, many of whom are Mexican American veterans, appear to have responded enthusiastically to the call to protect the boots from vandalism and animals. The exhibit left me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it’s a powerful statement. On the other hand, I find myself thinking, “Is this all that’s left of the peace movement?” I worry that it was too easy to walk through the exhibit without talking to anybody, too easy to walk away without committing to anything. On the other hand, it's clear that some kind of public mourning is needed. Any thoughts?

By the way, Laura is at the American Studies Association’s annual meeting in Oakland, California this weekend, so I am blogging alone for today. Her parents came up for a lovely weekend last Friday, and this weekend is looking pretty quiet by comparison. Laura also has the digital camera, so no photographs of the night’s frost on our flowers until she gets back. The year’s first freeze was Tuesday, and we woke up to a dusting of snow. Amazingly, our paintbrush and pansies still survived. There was another frost last night, and I am wondering how long the flowers will hold out.

One final note: Congratulations to my Dad who turned 72 this week!!


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