Movement of the People
Bouquets of the city's khaki-clad business-casual chit-chat between sips of cigarettes. Young men in blazers saunter by in loose packs, texting or talking into earpieces while women flip-flop their way between Charles Schwab and PNC Bank.
Near the curb, with Billy Penn as backdrop, nine people ranging in age from their late 20s up to about 70 gather in front of the Canadian consulate to protest the deportation of an ex-U.S. soldier named Corey Glass from Canada to the United States. A few hold up handmade posterboard signs: "REFUSING TO KILL IS NOT A CRIME," "WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER" and "SHAME ON CANADA!"
The protest has been organized by Eric Gjertsen of Payday, a men's organization with headquarters in London, the Philippines and Philadelphia. They operate on a simple philosophy that says society should invest in caring not killing, and that money would be better spent investing in communities than in the military.
Fourteen simultaneous protests are taking place at this moment around the country. Here, the protesters smile and act real friendly as they try to stuff informational pamphlets into the hands of passers-by, who mostly wave them off and march on, weary of burger coupons and store openings and discounts on places they'll never go.
Corey Glass, the Indiana-born sergeant who deserted the National Guard and fled to Toronto with his wife and child in 2006, is thought of by this group and sympathizers as the poster boy of the war resisters movement.
He's said he was told when he signed up for the National Guard that the only way he'd be in combat was if foreign troops occupied the United States, and that his military intelligence role in Iraq made him realize "innocent people were being killed unjustly." He believes what we're doing in Iraq is immoral, that it's an unjust war.
It's estimated 200 to 400 American soldiers have fled to Canada during the Iraq War. In a video plea to the prime minister of Canada taped in May, Glass says he believes that if deported to the U.S., he could face court martial, jail time or redeployment to Iraq.
On June 3 deserters in Canada won a symbolic victory when the House of Commons passed a nonbinding motion to "immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members ... to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada."
A public poll shows almost two-thirds of Canadian citizens want American war resisters to be able to stay in Canada. During the Vietnam War, 30,000 to 50,000 American soldiers were given legal refuge there.
But Canada's Ministry of Immigration didn't accept the House of Commons motion, and Glass was scheduled to be shipped back to the States.
Back at Liberty Place, a man watches the protesters from 15 feet. He's not impressed. He says they look like a bunch of draft dodgers.
"If everyone avoided the draft and ran to Canada, you have to ask, 'Do you like your freedom?' I happen to have two brothers in the military. One's been in Baghdad for three years," he says.
He shrugs and says there are different people out here every day protesting this or that.
After a few mini speeches, it's time for Payday's Gjertsen to head up to the 36th floor to discuss the Corey Glass case with the Canadian consulate.
The security guard planted in Liberty One's huge marble tomb tells us to wait and gratuitously shoos us to the side, which seems rude considering the passivity of this small group of extremely civil protesters. Gjertsen generously suggests they're concerned about blocking the area, even though it's practically empty.
When the counsel's representative finally descends, perfectly coiffed, wearing metro glasses and speaking in an enviable French accent, he says only four people are allowed up into his office.
I introduce myself as a reporter and am glad when he doesn't pay enough attention for it to register. Then Gjertsen and his crummy, seemingly sterling integrity makes a point of it.