A week ago Sunday afternoon, a parade of cars slowly moved north on Damen Avenue, honking their horns. Red-and-black flags waved from their antennas. Red and black streamers flapped in the breeze. A big truck rumbled past with a sign on its side in red and black letters: "Veteran's Peace Convoy to Nicaragua." More cars followed behind the truck, carrying signs that read: "No Contra Aid" and "Hands Off Central America."
Someone jumped out of a slow-moving car and began passing out leaflets that announced a "Latino to Latino Aid" rally in Wicker Park, a few blocks down the street. In English on one side and Spanish on the other, the flier said: "Feed the Children, Not the War. Nicaragua Needs Humanitarian Aid. Bring school supplies, seeds, summer clothes, food, medical supplies." It also said the rally was sponsored by the 26th Ward alderman, Luis Gutierrez.
At the park, the caravan of cars circled around. The people in the park cheered and waved to them. Some people were preparing and distributing free tacos. A group of about ten people sat in wheelchairs.
The big "Peace Convoy" truck backed into the park near a speaker's stand, and lots of people began carrying boxes over to the truck.
A Hispanic speaker started talking into the microphone. "We want to let Nicaragua know that we are opposed to the contra aid, and we support the Sandinistas, and that we will work to support peace instead of sending death and destruction. I will now introduce one of the veterans driving the Peace Convoy to Nicaragua: Mr. Foster Phillips."
The white-haired Phillips said that he was 62 years old, and a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He said that veterans had conceived and organized the plan to drive a convoy of trucks containing humanitarian aid from the U.S. to Nicaragua, where the supplies would be distributed to the needy.
Phillips said that three convoys--from the midwest, east coast, and west coast--would pass through 35 states, stopping in various cities to collect supplies. More trucks would join the caravans as they made their way to a June 4 rendezvous in Austin, Texas. About 50 trucks were expected to leave Austin, heading for Central America along the Pan-American highway. They planned to travel through Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and to arrive in Managua around June 17.
The crowd applauded as Phillips left the stage.
The supplies were piling up around the Peace Convoy truck. There were boxes of paper, pencils, crayons, and notebooks. Bags and bags of clothing. Gardening tools, shovels, hoses, and seeds. Boxes of canned foods, toothpaste, and soap. There were also several wheelchairs, and leaning up against the truck were 20 pairs of crutches.
Luis Gutierrez walked up to the microphone and asked the crowd to applaud the workers from the Streets and Sanitation Department who had set up the stage and were operating the sound system. The crowd obliged.
This is something of a quasi-liberated territory within Chicago--the 26th Ward," said Gutierrez. "We had to struggle against the Democratic machine in this ward, and it was just one drop in the gallon of imperialism that we have to struggle against. We won this struggle."
A big woman started shouting at Gutierrez. "What do you mean, won? Won what? What have we won?"
Gutierrez seemed surprised to hear a conflicting opinion. "I'm gonna answer what we've won--"
"I wanna know what we've won! What have we won?"
"What we've won is the right to be here," Gutierrez shouted back.
"So what? I'm here every day," the woman yelled. "What have we won?"
Gutierrez stumbled. "If you let me address the issue--"
"We ain't won shit, man," she screamed, turning her back and walking away--to the obvious relief of Gutierrez and the nervous organizers of the rally.
Gutierrez continued his speech. He passionately denounced the American policy of spending tax dollars to fight the war in Nicaragua rather than spending money on our own domestic problems. He said he believed that the Veteran Peace Convoy would not only serve to bring aid directly to the children of Nicaragua, but would publicize the issue of American money being spent on war. "They're giving something to the children of Nicaragua to help support their struggle for self-determination. In self-determination, there is dignity, there is self-respect, and there is a future."
He left the stage to loud applause.
There were more speeches and then Gutierrez led a group to the boxes that were piled near the truck. Gutierrez began loading the crutches onto the truck.
The members of a local samba band set up their various drums and percussion instruments and began playing--the perfect rhythmic accompaniment for truck loading.
Near the truck, a man named Tom Hansen said he would be driving one of the peace trucks. He had come from Washington, D.C., and said he was happy with his reception at an earlier rally in Evanston and in Chicago.
A coalition of more than 20 church and political organizations--including the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the Uptown Pledge of Resistance--had worked to organize just the one-day stay in Chicago.
Hansen had a complete itinerary for the journey--the dates, times, and locations of every stop from Chicago to Nicaragua. He said that at first he had thought the Convoy couldn't be quickly organized. But, he said, 'These veterans can do stuff that I've never seen a solidarity organization do. They don't like to sit around and split the hairs on Trotsky's ass. They're activists. They like to get out and get things done. It's a real working-class ethic."
A woman interrupted Hansen. "I'm going to Nicaragua, too. I'll see you there. But are you sure you can make it through Guatemala?"
"I'm more worried about Honduras than Guatemala," said Hansen. "We've got Guatemala pretty much sewn up."
"But isn't Guatemala hostile toward Nicaragua? Are you going to have 'Nicaragua Peace Convoy' displayed on your truck when you drive through?'
"Honduras is a lot more hostile than Guatemala. The president of Guatemala has actually sided with Nicaragua--"
"Oh, yeah," the woman argued, "but he can't do anything. The military is still in control. He's just a figurehead."
"At least the Guatemalan military is run by Guatemalans," said Hansen. "The Honduran military is run out of the White House."