Festival of Life and the Hamilton War Show
By Matthew Behrens, Toronto Action for Social Change
It was a significant weekend in the new effort to end the 26-year-old Hamilton war show, which often goes by the friendly moniker, "air show." In fact, it is one of the largest displays of aerial fire-power each summer in North America, with a range of criminal warplanes from the air forces of Canada, the U.S. and U.K.
A combination of nonviolent protest and resultant traffic tie-ups on June 17, and rain on June 18, may prove too much for the financially unstable institution to continue its annual homage to planes whose only purpose is mass murder from the air.
A testament to the seriousness with which the City of Hamilton treated the protests was reflected in criminal charges and severe bail restrictions. By the time the last resister was released from jail, war show organizers were no doubt wondering about the future of their show. A huge source of revenue was lost through the rainout on Sunday and the massive traffic jams on Saturday, partly credited to the protests, caused numerous cars to turn around, with drivers perhaps thinking Sunday might be a better try. War show organizers later admitted that Saturday attendance was down from last year, a sign attendees hoped to avoid the protests that day.
Despite the usual catcalls and verbal threats from the truly dedicated war show fans, thousands of attendees read the flyers handed to them during the traffic jam, and some engaged in dialogue with the clowns, grannies and others eager to discuss their opposition to the exhibition. For the first time, many of these folks had to consider why they unquestioningly attended something innocently labeled family entertainment each Fathers Day Weekend, to ask themselves how one family's entertainment could represent another family's terror and tragedy.
This war show, features such events like "Kiddie Commando," in which little children dress up as soldiers in camouflage with face paint and play war on an obstacle course with real soldiers sporting large water guns, "toy" grenades and military camouflage and face paint.
Members of Homes not Bombs, the Fathers Day Coalition for Peace, the Toronto Catholic Worker, and numerous other groups, traveled from across Ontario to Hamilton to protest this celebration of death from the air.
One hundred resisters formed a parade down the Airport Road, led by a large, beautiful bird of peace, huge puppets and colorful banners with slogans such as "Warning: These Planes Kill" and "Swords into Ploughshares." As cars lined up to enter the war show, passengers were met by clowns (whose banner read: "Clowns for Peace say War is Not OK!", by a stilt walker who handed out anti-war flyers and by individuals who held pictures of human victims and environmental damage caused by aerial bombardment, with the words: "This is what these planes do." The sign holders calmly declared to passersby: "This could be your home that was destroyed and this could be your sister who was killed. This is what these planes are made for."
As demonstrators gathered at the airport entrance, cars lined up for close to a mile in both directions. The Festival of Life included singing, poetry from Poets for Peace, satirical songs from the Raging Grannies, fiddling, bubble blowing, hula hoops and a theatrical piece called "The Men Who Bring us War," featuring Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and current war criminal, Bill Clinton.
The construction and distribution of paper origami cranes continued in honor of Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki, and clowns handed out peace lollipops as a unicyclist road up and down the shoulder of the road. A huge origami crane was festooned with ribbons as a memorial to all victims of aerial bombardment.
Midway through the festival, police actually aided people to stage a die-in in the road. As the names of previously bombed cities were read out, about 70 "died" in the road and lay still for 10 to 15 minutes as two people chalked their outlines on the road.
Police had been informed that the die-in would end when the giant bird of peace flew over the bodies. Perhaps thinking the die-in would last only 1 or 2 minutes, agitated police worrying about the increasingly large traffic jam. They began demanding to know where "that damned bird" was. As a lone voice beautifully sung out "We Shall Overcome," the bird of peace gently flew over the bodies, helping them to slowly rise, leaving behind the outlines of the bodies.
The police presence continued to increase, as numerous undercover police and other shadowy figures photographed and videotaped the proceedings. Happy demonstrators flashed peace signs and called out, "Smile for your file!"
At 10:45 am, a group of Citizens Inspectors, with documents pertaining to international and Canadian law and treaty violations represented by the war planes, approached the entrance. They were met by a solid row of police who said they could go no further. Incoming traffic came to a standstill for the next 20 to 25 minutes. The traffic jam went miles beyond sight.
The inspectors explained their purpose and asked police to let them through or risk being charged with becoming an accessory after the fact to the crimes listed in the documents (in countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Laos, Libya, Cambodia, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and all countries that were victims of aerial bombardment during WWII. They were told repeatedly by police to leave or be charged with arrest. Meanwhile, other individuals freely walked down the same road without being stopped by police and asked about their political and ethical views.
When the chief police inspector asked why their nonviolent protest was turning into something different, one demonstrator asked how things were different. At a loss for a response, the officer said he was not familiar with international law, but refused to read the Citizen's Inspection Certificate. When he repeated his concern that the protest was no longer peaceful, a demonstrator said that if the officer felt threatened by the turn of events, that they would sit down in the road.
The frazzled inspector begged seated protesters to leave or trespass charges would be laid. Fourteen inspectors (8 of whom are parents, with some of their children watching from the sideline) were eventually arrested and charged with trespassing. A freelance journalist was arrested for not having an "appropriate press pass." They were taken downtown in police wagons and placed in cells for processing.
Around 3 p.m., the Toronto Catholic Workers removed their Clowns for Peace makeup and big noses and drove into the war show grounds. They entered for the remarkable family rate of $50 (there were 11 members in the van!) They picked up where the Fathers Day Five left off last year with a beautiful prayer vigil at the A-10 Warthog.
Unveiling a banner under the warplane's nosecone reading "We Shall Beat Our Swords into Ploughshares: Study War No More," they launched into song and prayer, with a Litany of Resistance. As police converged on the area, they immediately placed seven individuals under arrest for mischief. "Is the mischief for singing, or is it for praying?" asked one.
Those who had been charged with trespassing earlier were newly charged with mischief as well. An officer went from cell to cell to lay the new charges. Resisters wondered what mischief they could have done in their cells, sans shoes, glasses, watches, books, jackets and toilet paper.
The Catholic Workers refused to sign a release condition of non-association. This condition was eventually dropped. After fingerprinting and mug shots, both the prayer group and nine Citizens Inspectors were finally released by 9:30 p.m. They promised not to enter the township in which they had been arrested.
Six others were held overnight because of outstanding criminal charges from a November 12, 1999, attempt in Ottawa to transform the War Department into a Housing Department. They were brought to court in leg irons! Those providing bail support were treated again to the pitiful, vengeful violence so endemic to the courts. Wife beaters, child abusers and those accused of uttering death threats were treated with great dignity, care and respect, while 13 and 14 year old girls were denied bail for shoplifting a $5 lip gloss from Wal Mart.
The courts are a function of protecting privilege and greed, and the violent fist which backs up that privilege and greed, the military. The demonstration seemed to have shaken up the local elite. Many Hamilton businesses are sponsors of the war show as are all of the local media outlets (except the community radio and weekly paper). The only TV station in the region failed to cover area's largest civil resistance action in decades, while violent protests regularly demand national media attention.
The atmosphere in the court was filled with contempt and anger towards those opposing the war show. Individuals accused of tremendous acts of violence against women and children were released on personal recognizance with limited conditions while heavy bails were sought for those whose crime was praying for peace and seeking to uphold international laws and covenants protecting the rights of individuals not to be subjected to the horrors of war.
In his opening address to the court, the Crown explained that the group went from a "peaceful" demonstration to one which involved blocking the road (this despite the fact that the police had already blocked it.). He claimed that these outsiders were part of "The Anti-War Machine Network." Apart from the crown's overheated imagination, this awesome sounding group does not even exist.
In the first case, the judge declared, "You are not to be within a half mile of any air [sic] show in Ontario." The resister was required to post $500 bail, no deposit, was banned from the township of Glanbrook and told he could not knowingly associate with anyone with a criminal record.
One protester was required to have $1,000 surety bail. His potential surety sees him weekly in a caucus of the New Democratic Party. Apparently, though, they knew each other too well, for it came out that both had been arrested at the Homes not Bombs action in Ottawa. This fact left the judge gasping in frustration. The judge did not want the protester released and his statements showed an anger that the war show had been disrupted.
The judge, who looked increasingly uncomfortable, tried to shift attention away from his cruelty. Randy Kay, a protest organizer who had been released from jail the previous evening, spent the whole day in court with his four-and-a-half year old daughter. As they were leaving, the judge stated, "Sir, I wish to complement you on the behavior of your child. The day has been long, the proceedings have been boring, but she has done very well. I'm not sure how you are raising your child, but whatever you are doing, you are doing a great job."
Kay, who had witnessed the injustices of the court and whose daughter cried because her Father was in jail on Father's Day Weekend for the second year in a row for protesting war, simply smiled and declared, "Yes, and you will likely see her someday in one of your courts."
And so the resistance grows.
For more information, contact: Fathers Day Coalition for Peace, Box 19, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton ON L8S 1C0; Tel: (905) 627-2696, (905) 528-5925; (416) 651-5800; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org