Monday, March 31, 2014

We Stood, We Walked, We Made Our Point

One of the reporters who covered last week's silent flash mob protest wrote:
Organizer Susan Schwaidelson Siegfried placed an initial, cryptic call to action through her personal blog on Monday night, inviting anyone in the Twin Cities who wanted to get involved to email her for more information. Although participants were initially instructed that the media would not be contacted until a few hours before the event, so as not to alert the restaurant, Schwaidelson Siegfried and co-organizer Margie Newman broke their media ban early, contacting City Pages for an interview on Wednesday morning.
Rob Callahan for the Star Tribune Mobile. 

Wow! I'm cryptic! What a thrill! What a total rush! Wish it was true. For the record, I'd like to know who notified the restaurant. Anyone wanna venture a guess since it wasn't either Margie or me????

The so-called media ban was because it was supposed to be a spontaneous flash mob. If you've ever seen a video of one, random people bump into each other and start playing Beethoven or dancing The Nutcracker or some other thing which is clearly anything but random. Still, people love it. Granted we weren't striking up Ode To Joy in front of Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit, but we did want to seem, at least, to be spontaneous. Leave it to the press to make some SOP thing a big mystery. The bigger mystery, by the way, is why the above article was pulled from the main web site and relocated to the Strib's mobile site. Thankfully, the Star Tribune kept Jeff Wheeler's fabulous photographs...the ones that made us look like a total class act. 

Photo by Nick Kozel of City Pages
So we get to the corner of 23rd and University NE. We do not park in their lot; we park on the street. We pin yellow stars, pink, red, and black triangles on each others' coats. We hand out slips of paper that will answer any question without us talking. We pick up our boxes and valises and I quickly review the plan: walk in small groups, maintain silence, and do not block the restaurant's entrance. We take our first walk down the block and there are the bully boys in red t-shirts with big, bulging muscles who look menacingly at this ragtag line of deportee re-enactors. We ignore them and keep walking. We get to the end of the block, turn and face the street, and line up though we are waiting for a bus....or a cattle car. 

Photo by Jeff Wheeler
of the Star Tribune
Traffic slows down. People give us the thumbs up and honk. They wave. All but two show support. I won't even mention what the other two yelled out the window. We faced the street for about 10 minutes, then, in small groups, we walked to the other end of the block, turned, and walked back. 

In the middle of the walking part, the tow truck showed up. And the bully boys were pointing at this car and that car. They were going to tow the car of one of the journalists...but he quickly pointed out THEY told him where to park. So they focused on another car...only that one belonged to a restaurant patron who quickly came out to stop them. 

Photo by Jeff Wheeler
of the Star Tribune
We walked from about 7:15 until 7:30; then Margie and I announced we had made our point and it was time to stop. That's when several reporters came over and talked to us. KSTP-Channel 5, what Ziggy used to refer to as The Mr. Bill News since every story began with "Oooh Nooooo!" in the fashion of "if it bleeds, it leads," had a video guy there, but footage never showed up. I guess walking up and down isn't exciting enough. 

Thursday, the strangest thing happened.I got an email from Sophia Muender of SpiegelONLINE  (as in Der Spiegel) asking if she could interview me. I agreed; we arranged a time for her to call from Hamburg. We talked for about a half-hour. She asked some good questions; I did have to explain what a tow truck was, but that was the only language issue. 

The article appeared on Friday. I could watch the WP Blog-o-Meter spinning with hits from Germany. The WP Facebook page was also getting huge traffic. But it was the list of comments that blew me, and Margie, too, right out of the water. They were wonderful. They were supportive and thankful. There were private messages, too, pointing out that the original party, had it been held in Germany, would've been illegal. Take a moment to go there and read them. They are amazing. 

And on Sunday, we were picked up in La Sopitas in Mexico

Although not everyone was on board with our decision to walk in front of Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit, I am, without a doubt, positive it was the right thing to do. Yes, there will be meetings and discussions, and hopefully these will include the restaurateur, Mario Pierzchalski, and the participants, but our silent presence on that corner was eloquent and visceral at the same time. We left the site knowing we had made an impact. 

And judging by the size of the tow truck and the number of bully boys standing around, one of those impacts had to be in Mr. Pierzchalski's wallet. After all, he paid for all that security, dontcha know? 

Turns out there was another demonstration on Saturday night, by a more politically organized group called the Minneapolis Anti-Fascist Solidarity Action. They weren't silent. They had bull horns, speeches, and a chant: 
No Nazis! No KKK! No fascists USA! 
The speeches were about the working class enclave of Nord'East and how those people...the ones in the restaurant... are racists and against freedom, unions, jobs and stuff like that. It was, judging by the video, very passionate.

And kind of misrepresenting reality. The gist of their comments centered on removing that segment of the population, but in truth, they are the ones who come off as anti-free speech. There was an edge in their rhetoric that was the complete opposite of where we were. The bullhorns serve as a way to whip the crowd into some kind of frenzy...but this is Minnesota and we don't do frenzy very well. Frankly, I couldn't follow their stream of logic.

But that's me. I came up with the silent flash mob idea so that our silence would speak for the victims. The freedoms we treasure as Americans are the very freedoms denied the victims of the Holocaust, both civilian and military alike. I wanted to focus on preserving that which is guaranteed in the Constitution. In that moment, we needed to celebrate the opportunity for free speech....not to preach how others do not have the right to talk. It's a tough line and not easily explained and I'm certain I'm bungling it, but at the end of the day, what we have is worth preserving even if it means some people are going to have tasteless Nazi dinner parties.

We were a small crowd. We had no bull horns, no chants, no rhetoric. Our little silent flash mob was practical and functional. People all over the world read about it...and wrote to us to share their support, citing the silence again and again as the most powerful way to deliver the message. 

And I am more than okay with that. 

We did good. Real good. Margie and I are still kvelling. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If you haven't seen this in a while, take a moment to listen to
the ACLU speech from Aaron Sorkin's THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT.
It will knock your socks off. 


  1. This was a beautifully staged demonstration. The photos are magnificent. The fact that DerSpiegel picked up the story online is incredible. That was truly my favorite article -- even though I didn't understand a word of it (except for maybe "Minneapolis" and "Susan Schwaidelson Siegfried"), I am pround to be one of your blog readers.

    Please share the link to the Spiegel online article with your readers in case they missed it -- its really worth taking a look at.

  2. Thank you; you're very kind.

    The link is actually embedded in the word "article," but I've added it to SPIEGEL ONLINE for good measure. I wondered if it would get lost.

  3. I read the Der Spiegel article using You used Silence as such a powerful tool. The Der Spiegel article captured something which resonated for me. Your seemingly small act inspire me and many others to become less passive.

    Good for you for taking a stand.

    "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. " Robert F. Kennedy