Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
For more information about Jo, check out her Linked-in profile, as well as her Facebook fan page, Instagram and Google+
Monday, August 8, 2016
Meet the peace police, protecting protesters in the name of Bernie Sanders
Posted: July 26, 2016
Paul Roden passes out roses as protest peacekeeper
Outside Philadelphia City Hall, Communists were competing with cannabis for the attention of a sweaty crowd Monday afternoon.
Lower Makefield resident Paul Roden stood in the middle, watching the shout-down between the two groups and holding a bouquet of roses.
Around the 62-year-old’s neck was a simple handmade laminated sign that read “Bernie Peacekeeper.”
Standing next to him on the street was a former roommate, Jeff Keith, someone Roden hadn’t seen in more than 30 years. The spontaneous reunion occurred earlier Monday when the two showed up at the same peacekeepers training class at the Arch Street United Methodist Church. The church is acting as a respite center for protesters during the Democratic National Convention and is training volunteers to keep the peace on the streets.
The men were among roughly 40 people from across the United States — all supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — who attended the two-hour Monday morning training session before they headed out into the loud and unpredictable world of DNC protests.
Their mission: Keep the crowds calm, de-escalate confrontations and provide comfort; watch for people who might be experiencing heat-related health problems. Smile, the peacekeepers were told in their training. Hand out roses. Keep a positive tone. If someone pulls out a gun or a brawl breaks out, urge people to sit down, then call 911.
The peacekeepers spread out throughout the city Monday.
After what was said to be a relatively uneventful day, protesters massed near Broad and Pattison at early evening. Several were seen being detained by police. There was no indication if the Bernie Peacekeepers were on that scene.
Jody Dodd, of Up Against the Law Legal Collective, which is providing free legal representation for protesters, reported police had arrested at least 30 protesters by 6 p.m. Monday. The arrests were the first of the convention.
The Bernie Peacekeepers plan to continue their work throughout the DNC.
Susan Briton-Seyler, 66, a Chester County resident and Sanders supporter came up with the idea for the Bernie Peacekeepers in June after she came across people in a park talking about the DNC. She found the discussion, which she said was full of hurtful rhetoric, disturbing. As a Quaker, Briton-Seyler prefers to talk about more positive things.
“It (Peacekeepers) just seems to be flowing out of my Quaker values. We know he is not the nominee, but we want to stand up for that message,” Briton-Seyler said. “If we all stand together, we can do a lot. This is what people really want. Protesting what you don’t want, there is no success in that to me.”
The biggest test for the volunteer peacekeepers could come Wednesday when Occupy DNC protesters are scheduled to rally at FDR Park, the designated protest area nearest to the convention.
There is little doubt that the peacekeepers will be outnumbered, trainer Dion Lehrman said.
“I’ve never been to a demonstration where there were enough peacekeepers,” he said. “Fear is the biggest challenge you have to face. You’re going to be scared. Remember you are there for a bigger purpose and principle.”