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    When No One is in Charge (at CSW67)

    by Karen Castellon 

    Having experienced two other gatherings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York City, I knew that we had to line up to get tickets to the meetings held in the General Assembly room. There is a capacity of 581, and the registered attendees at CSW67 numbered close to 8,000. UN Women, the sponsoring organization, had been sending periodic emails with instructions on when to obtain these free but limited number of passes.

    So we lined up at approximately 12:10 pm on Monday, March 6, the first day of CSW67, to wait until the ticket booth opened at 1 pm and distribution would commence. The section closest to the ticket booth had ropes to keep folks organized. After that, the line just extended into the spacious UN lobby. However, the snaking line began to look like a dog that had a waggy tail. So I took it upon myself to direct the folks in line to form a snake-like queue. This meant that some folks faced in one direction and others just behind them faced in a different direction. The good news is that the attendees complied, and I explained that the line would only begin to move at 1 pm when the UN workers returned to their posts. Everyone needs a lunch break but honestly, there were no personnel to be found.
    Twice more, as the line grew, I stepped away from my place in the queue and directed my fellow attendees about how to organize themselves. Again, the attendees complied, and the area near the ticket booth swelled with 200? 300? 350? folks as the time got closer to 1 pm.
    And then, SURPRISE!
    At approximately 12:55 pm, a gentleman in a black uniform (with an air of being official but not with UNDSS letters) announced that anyone who wanted tickets to International Women’s Day, March 8, needed to queue “over there.” He repeated this statement once more, and then the organized queue completely broke apart. Attendees waiting in the roped area broke through the ropes in order to leave the queue and head “over there.” It was complete chaos.
    In a moment I decided to remain on this queue and get tickets for Tuesday, March 7, so I moved to the front of this line. However, the broken ropes were not repaired, and the line was just a clump of people.
    When the ticket booth folks finally arrived at 1 pm, chaos continued to reign. And there was no way to get organized in the next… 15 minutes. More and more UN security people showed up until there were at least 12 to 15 of them. One security guy used his bullhorn and its piercing noise in a futile attempt to make the attendees organize themselves. But the security organizers never fixed the ropes. Moving backwards meant someone would take your space at the front; there was no space to move forward. Chaos in both directions. Then there was a call to form “two lines,” which was a joke because we could not even form one line. Then there were instructions for diplomats to get their tickets “here” and others to get their tickets “there.” Also unsuccessful.
    I pointed out to the gentleman in black that he started this whole situation with his ill-timed instructions. He claimed, correctly, that the attendees were not acting respectfully. But gosh, this could have been avoided. (Who put him in charge?)
    Grateful that we are not refugees. I calmly explained to my daughter that at least we were not waiting for food or water or shelter. We could leave this line at any time, we had agency – and we eventually did without tickets. We only stuck around to observe the chaos, the attempts at order, the arrival of more security, the attempts at leadership via command and control. All complete and utter failures. As we were leaving, I noticed that there were two security personnel trying to put the ropes back together at the back of the area. Really, it was the only possible solution because without those guiding ropes, there was nothing holding us together in an organized fashion.

    We went outside and found the “other queue,” which our colleagues had joined. They were now at the front of the line, holding a place for us. We switched places, showed our credentials and got tickets for March 8.


    The Rest of the Story

    Arriving on March 8 at 8:45 am for a program that began at 9 am, we chose to sit in the overflow room rather than wait on a very long line for the elevators to take us to the third floor for the General Assembly. Ironically, the stairs to walk up to the third floor were cordoned off. My guess is that this was an attempt to slow the flow of attendees into the General Assembly by only allowing limited numbers on each of the two elevators. The security team had taken control!


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