Street Seens: Negotiating Fifth Avenue – Two Islands, St. Patrick and a Peacemaker

Negotiating Fifth Avenue is almost always a challenge. But I don’t think that is why the peace negotiator George Mitchell was asked to lead the thousands of marchers in the 255th Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in the US. From what I observed last week at Ireland’s New York Consulate, and earlier when an Ireland House presentation to a standing room crowd celebrating the publication of his memoir, The Negotiator, I had a glimpse of all the reasons wise people would be moved to fall into ranks behind a gentle, humorous, steely strong demonstration that the American Dream is achievable in the 21st century.

George Mitchell, born to a Lebanese Mother and a sometime unemployed janitor, honored his parents for showing how they had worked and sacrificed to ensure that their children would share their vision of education as a Holy Grail worth seeking. It was clearly their grit, their hope and their values that kept his scales balanced when honors like nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize and the award of the American Medal of Freedom and the Liberty Medal came to their son.

mccannGeorge Mitchell (left) with Colum McCann (right)

That evening at NYU, he was introduced by National Book Award author Colum McCann, whose novel Transatlantic features Senator Mitchell as one of the daring searchers whose crossing of the Atlantic to Ireland changed their world. The author makes no secret of the fact that the statesman from Waterville, Maine is a hero to him. And I am equally convinced that making and expressing that choice also speaks volumes about McCann, and who he is as a man. In an iconic 2013 opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Remembering an Easter Miracle in Northern Ireland,” the novelist acknowledged the fact that the 1998 Peace Agreement had held for a decade because the negotiator had not acted as one who came to give peace, but one who had the courage to give the choice back to the people who would, at the end of the day, be called upon to live the peace. It was a strategy of goals as balanced as brave. It demonstrated the guidance of a negotiator whose goal is the achievement of a result built on respect for all the disparate parties. It was a hard won achievement both daring and patient. I hope it is not a vast oversimplification to say that the genius of shepherding the Northern Ireland Agreement is to recognize that parties to the agreement need not embrace each and all, not even most of the other parties’ passions, but instead to agree that they would disavow violence as the means of achieving them.

The Parade honoring the Patron Saint of Ireland and the Archdiocese of New York has special significance in the 100th anniversary year of Ireland’s 1916 Proclamation of Freedom. Parade Chairman Dr. John Leahy noted that naming one who worked selflessly for a peace in which freedom can flourish was therefore especially fitting. And that it underscores the aptness of having a respectful negotiation lead to a march that Consul General Barbara Jones last week applauded as the most inclusive in a quarter century. Characteristically modest, Mitchell hinted to a February 29 audience at Ireland’s Consulate in New York that the real challenge of “negotiating” his duties as leader of a 35-block march up Fifth Avenue paled in comparison to the challenge of appearing at and addressing the more than a dozen celebratory receptions and events that preceded it. Just the humor and the attitude one would expect from a master at the art of deflecting praise from himself. Once again he proved how strongly he believes that the success of any negotiator’s work comes ultimately from those who will be there when he returns home and who will keep the march going into and beyond a demanding future.

When the laughter had subsided he closed his remarks on a day that occurs only once every four years with the words from the Author’s Note that opens his memoir. It is a love song to the nation that allows him to invest himself in service to the larger world as “… a citizen of what I believe to be, despite its many serious imperfections, the most open, the most free, the most just society in all of human history.”

Photo of George Mitchell and Colum McCann by Dan Creighton of the NYU Photo Bureau

Annette Cunningham’s Street Seens appears on Sunday.

About Annette Sara Cunningham (119 Articles)
Annette Sara Cunningham comes to Street Seens and Woman Around Town as a “villager” who migrated from Manhattan, Illinois to Manhattan 10065. She is currently the recovering ringmaster of a deliberately small three-ring enterprise privileged to partner with world-class brands to make some history as strategist and creative marketer. The “history” included the branding, positioning and stories of Swiss Army’s launch of watches; Waterford Crystal’s Millennium Collection and its Times Square Ball; the Orbis flying eye hospital’s global assault on preventable blindness; the green daring that in a matter of months, turned a Taiwan start up’s handheld wind and sun powered generator into a brand standing tall among the pioneers of green sustainability; travel to Finland’s Kings’ Road and Santa’s hometown near the Arctic Circle; the tourism and trade of Northern Ireland; and the elegant exports of France. She dreamed at age 12 of being a writer. But that dream was put on hold, while she became: successively, teacher of undergraduate philosophy, re-brander of Ireland from a seat at the table of the Irish Government’s Export Board; then entrepreneur, as founder and President of ASC International, Ltd. and author of Aunts: a Celebration of Those Special Women in our Lives (soon to be reborn as Aunts; the Best Supporting Actresses.) Now it’s time to tell the 12-year old that dreams sometimes come true.