Then, in 2004, a man named Duke Riley protested the Republican National Convention using U Thant Island. He climbed the small navigation tower, dangling a flag from its heights, and declared the island to be an independent nation. The 2004 convention, for President George W. Bush, was being held in New York City at the height of the Iraq War. Indeed, it was at odds with the Buddhist notion of a united assembly of peaceful nations.
When you ride the 7 train, you glide directly underneath U Thant island. Though nobody is allowed on shore, you can see it clearly from Manhattan. The peace arch is a nice reminder of the island’s intent, a small refuge in the midst of a series of islands lost in the constant bustle of the city. A certain aura of zen does surround it. No matter what happens in the world, this small Buddhist-leased island will persist, with its metal architecture, tufts of grass, and rocky shore. It’s a stoic little island. If islands could think, at least, I’m pretty sure U Thant would be a stoic Buddhist. It was created as a consequence of underground tunnel construction, a side-effect of the modern world, but a testament to that world’s contradictory stillness. Everything changes, but still, it fundamentally remains the same. The rules don’t change, the people remain incarnations of the same ideas.
U Thant island may be off-limits, but its ethos is available to all. If you ever happen to spot it, you can remember its history, and the opposition to the Iraq War, a sect of Buddhists, and the usefulness of the 7 train. It’s an interesting combination, to say the least.