Volume 74, Number 45 | March 16 - 22, 2005

Villager photos by Talisman Brolin

Claire Maida, 74, a retiree who has lived in Chelsea for four years, read the Chelsea Neighbors United flier before marching down Eighth Ave.

Burning for peace in Chelsea

By Jefferson Siegel

This past weekend saw worldwide protests marking the second anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war. One of the first of these weekend gatherings stepped off Friday night, when the newly formed Chelsea Neighbors United to End the War held a candlelight march.

As people slowly began arriving Friday evening by the subway entrance at 24th St. and Eighth Ave., Chuck Zlatkin, co-organizer of Chelsea Neighbors United and a Chelsea resident for 34 years, discussed the group’s origins.

It was late last summer when a small group of neighbors mobilized to plan a protest against the war, timed to coincide with the Republican Convention. The turnout stunned organizers, and a community group was born.

“People in this community, we felt it was time that we did something to bring about the end of this war,” Zlatkin said. “We all agreed that we wanted to work in the community that we lived. Chelsea has a long history of activism.”

Mindful of the numerous protests scheduled around the city over this past weekend, he explained why the Chelsea Neighbors march was significant. “We wanted to do something specific to our community that reflected who we were and the fact that we, as real people, are feeling this war and want to get involved in finding a solution.”

A banner reading “Chelsea Neighbors United” was unfurled and, like a magnet, people across the street looking for the march zeroed in on it as a handful of police stood by to control traffic. “The community response has been tremendous,” Zlatkin enthused as the crowd grew in the dimming light. “People have been coming to the meetings through terrible weather, snowstorms, whatever, to organize and work.”

A woman walked among the crowd, handing out candles and cups. Many took these, but some old-time residents proudly pulled flashlights from coat pockets, old protest hands showing they knew the drill.

Just after 6:30 p.m. the crowd, now approaching 100, slowly began their walk down the west side of Eighth Ave. Reva Golden came from Brooklyn to make a point.

“For me, it’s more a memorial for the people who died and all the terrible things that happened when it never should have,” she said after crossing 23rd St. “I don’t know that the war can be stopped now, because you create a power vacuum into which worse people will come.”

Donna Kelsh of Chelsea observed, “I think it’s time to bring the troops home. Too many deaths, of Americans, maimed, and Iraqis, perhaps 100,000 or more, and I think that with us out of there, Iraqis wil have a shot at making themselves stable and independent.”

As the walk proceeded south, oncoming sidewalk pedestrians moved to one side, some voicing encouragement to the marchers walking two-by-two. One woman shook a tambourine, but, for the most part, marchers walked quietly, many cupping their hands around candles flickering in the evening air. At 20th St., they turned west to gather in front of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church halfway down the block. Reverend K. Dennis Winslow, rector of the church, had walked with the group from 24th St. Now, as marchers gathered in the church’s courtyard and overflowed onto the street, he mounted the building’s steps to deliver a short sermon.

Afterwards, as marchers walked back towards the avenue, Reverend Winslow elaborated on his remarks to the crowd. “My passionate feeling [is] that men and women and children are being killed unjustifiably for a war that’s being fought over money. I’m rather concerned economically that the poor are being marginalized even more. I’m concerned that institutions like mine, the church, need to be more proactive.”

The procession continued past the Joyce Theater marquee and paused at 17th St. Diners in a noodle restaurant on the corner put down their chopsticks as the marchers caught their attention. One diner pulled the ubiquitous digital camera from her purse and, after capturing a few images, returned to her soba noodles. The march crossed to the east side of the avenue and headed back uptown.

Sarah Catalanado, a Penn South resident, was pushing a baby carriage and keeping an eye on three other children. “The kids play together but they also have something serious to say,” she said, as her son, reclining in the stroller, held a sign reading: “Out Now.”

“They don’t want to be involved in this war in a couple more years,” Catalando said. “I can see that money going to the schools and not destroying other cultures and countries.”

The march concluded shortly after passing the Loew’s theater on W. 23rd St. The walk drew residents of the nearby Fulton Houses and Penn South buildings, as well as locals from throughout Chelsea and the Village. Many said they planned to be up early the next morning to participate in the Central Park protest.

Organizer Zlatkin summed up the gathering: “It’s O.K. in a democracy, where we have a Bill of Rights, for people to assemble, express their speech and even petition their government.”

The following day, 10,000 peace protesters marched down from Harlem and 4,500 rallied in Central Park. Several hundred marched with the War Resisters League — the procession included the carrying of cardboard coffins representing the war dead — and held die-ins at recruiting stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, 300 in Manhattan, 150 in the Brooklyn. There was also a vigil for peace in the Bronx.

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