Fourth Thursday in November

So my first Thanksgiving ever outside the US was spent at a protest.

It was a protest against military actions happening in Israel/Palestine. It felt like a mix between a vigil and some of the peaceful protests that happen in the US. Music, candles, podiums, speakers, the usual. Overall, it was pretty chilled out and relaxed.

Then, all of the sudden, a new protest showed up. It was at the back end of the original protest. It was kind of small, but very loud. The original protest was in Danish, this one was in Arabic, so I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying. They stuck mostly to the call-response format, but once in a while they busted out into shorter responses. I recognized one though because it was English. They started chanting, in the angry way that I recognized from those two clips CNN has been running for the last 10 years, “down down Israel”. They then proceeded to burn the Israeli flag.

I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was a person onstage giving a fairly peaceful, informative, but inspiring speech, the solemn passion of a candle-light vigil, the wafting smell of pot (as there always is at these things) and a few yards behind it, a picture-perfect media caricature of ‘the middle east’. In Denmark. In the land of blondes, bicycles, and dairy, you suddenly have a scene that would have been thrown out of Team America for being too scripted and unrealistic. It was utterly incomprehensible.

Then, just at the tip of my hearing range, I heard something else. It took me a minute to realize I heard it because I didn’t want to realize it. For approximately 5 seconds, I heard the Arabic chanting turn to English again and say “down down USA”.

I really didn’t want that to be what they said.

Complete this sentence: “Hi, I’m from ___, pleased to meet you!”  Now, imagine saying this sentence almost daily for the last 6 months. Now, imagine standing a few yards from a very angry group with fire aiming their anger at whatever you filled in the blank with up there. Even for 5 seconds.

I turned back over to the peaceful side. Their message was clear: stop the military actions in Gaza for the sake of the people living there. That’s a message I could get behind. All of the sudden, the chanting stopped. Out of deference to the speaker, the chanting stopped. It was a Palestinian man talking about his experiences. It was in Danish, but I couldn’t concentrate so I don’t know what he was saying. I was worried about the guys in the back. What if they brought out an American flag next? How would I feel? What would I do? I know I wouldn’t ignore it. It’s the American holiday celebrating togetherness and family, I’m out expressing solidarity with people and a small group of them might undo all that with blind anger. After the speaker, their chanting went back to Arabic.

Next speaker was up, who was a rapper, rapping a political message. The tune was catchy but I could still see the syncopated, angry waving of Palestinian and Hamas flags from the corner of my eye.

Then, focusing squarely in front of me, I saw more Palestinian flags; considerably more, but they were different. They were waving and flowing in time with the beat and the music. They were gathered and moving solely in support of the person in front of them. It was amazingly steady and controlled, almost choreographed in comparison to what was going on behind.

Finally, the laws of fluid dynamics took hold. The turbulent flags poured in to the controlled wave of flags as the two crowds merged. There were 2 rhythms and two songs going on at once. I think this was the most important moment of my night…there were 2 incompatible moods that needed to be resolved. I definitely had a horse in this race so I wanted to see what would happen.

I saw the angry flags that their carriers were using to jab randomly at the sky, and then, in front of the canal facing the parliament’s castle, the jabbing changed. Maybe it was the beautiful street decorations, or maybe the air just got too cold, but the jabbing was different now. It started to have a distinct pattern. It was still jabbing, but there was a waving quality to it too. The waves matched the waves that were there earlier. All of the sudden, there were hundreds of Palestinian flags moving rhythmically to the background music of Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World. Some of them might have still been slightly sharper in their overtones than others, but it was clear that, at least for this moment, they were all there for peace.

This brings me to what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to live most of my life in countries where, when a peaceful concert meets an angry mob, the peaceful concert wins.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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