Soles in conflict
Walk in Their Shoes exhibit intends to humanize grim statistics of Iraqi War
The Chico Peace and Justice Center’s executive director, Rachel Morones Black, is talking on the phone and standing next to a couple of cardboard boxes overflowing with a jumble of assorted well-worn shoes: hiking boots, sneakers, flip-flops, even bedroom slippers fill the boxes and spill onto the floor. Incongruous as they seem in the context of the peace center, the shoes are playing a symbolic role in the center’s upcoming peace rally and march commemorating the fourth anniversary of the United States invasion of Iraq.
According to the Iraq Body Count Data Base, as of March 8, 2007, there have been a minimum reported total of 58,192 and a maximum reported total of 63,973 Iraqi civilians killed since the war began March 19, 2003. According to an October 2006 report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the actual death toll may be hundreds of thousands more.
But they are also just numbers floating on a page.
The activists at the Peace and Justice Center are hoping that Americans will view those numbers less as abstract statistics and more as a means of assessing the tragic toll of human suffering that the war is amassing. Inspired by the national CODEPINK: Women for Peace organization, the Chico center is creating the Walk in Their Shoes exhibit, which will be displayed at City Plaza March 18, in conjunction with the center’s peace rally, march and candlelight vigil.
CODEPINK, a grassroots peace and social justice movement, was formed by female peace activists Medea Benjamin, Starhawk, Jodie Evans, Diane Wilson and “about a hundred other women” on Nov. 17, 2002, to protest the fear-based war-mongering of the Bush administration.
According to its Web site, “The name CODEPINK plays on the Bush Administration’s color-coded homeland security advisory system that signals terrorist threats. While Bush’s color-coded alerts are based on fear, the CODEPINK alert is based on compassion and is a feisty call for women and men to ‘wage peace.’ “
The Chico demonstration is not officially affiliated with CODEPINK, but was inspired by similar demonstrations put on by the organization, particularly one that took place at the end of January, in Washington, D.C., in which 6,500 shoes were collected and displayed.
To create the Chico Walk in Their Shoes exhibit, the CPJC has been collecting shoes, which will be tagged with the names and ages of Iraqi civilians who have died during the war. The CPJC hopes to be able to display at least 100 pairs, and is still collecting.
“The purpose of the display is to humanize the victims of the Iraqi violence,” Black said. “The idea of displaying the shoes is to increase the urgency [average citizens feel] to end this war. With more and more people becoming dissatisfied with the war, we need to keep up the pressure to end it now.”
Speaking at Saturday’s rally will be Dorothy Parker, a Chico grandmother who in January 2006 was sentenced to two months in prison for her participation in a peaceful protest of the School of the Americas.
Also speaking will be Vietnam veteran Terry McGowan and Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe.
“The theme of my talk will be that peace starts at home,” Holcombe said. “Here in Chico we enjoy a peaceful environment that I would like to see extended into much more of the world.”