The Hard Work of Stopping (a) War
Monday was the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, and witnessed another series of protests around the world. In Seattle, despite rain and chill, 3,000 people marched through downtown in two separate columns uniting in front of the Federal Building. I was one of the people who led (physically) the march, carrying the signature banner: Ending the War Begins at Home. (photo above)
It is a strange thing, being at the front of a protest march. I was privy to a lot of the smaller conflicts that get lost in all the noise and confusion, like stopping the march to force the police to let a truck through the line that would be used at the end of the march, or attempting to force the police to let the crowd occupy the street in front of the Federal Building.
But there was another, more subtle strangeness. As always, I yelled and chanted, and brought along an annoyingly piercing whistle to penetrate the office windows downtown. But at the front, I was yelling into emptiness. As the chant "this is what democracy looks like" came up, it seemed too strange to me: this is democracy, masses of people crying into emptiness with no real hope of being answered. Not democracy in theory, but "democracy" as we have it. Policy-makers, profiteers and pundits take us to war, massive unrest be damned. This is what democracy looks like. To be honest, I am growing less and less enchanted with democracy.
Some will jump on that last sentence as a support for despotism or the like... but don't misunderstand me. If what "America" is is "democracy," then clearly it isn't working even for most of the people. And, at any rate, my allegiances aren't to the majority or minority, aren't to the preservation of the nation or its overthrow, aren't subject to or described at all by the flag. I am a Christian. My allegiance is to Christ above all else. (And just so you don't get the impression that I'm a fanatic wanting to impose his god on others, Christ demands much more from me than I have any right to demand from anyone else.) Whatever the form of government, I am not of it. Being a Christian sets me against powers that seek to dominate and control, especially powers that rule and profit by horrific violence. Even if a "majority" of people "voted" for this war (which, one should note, has never happened, and all records have been quite to the opposite), my commitment to Christ commits me to resistance and to nonviolence.
Marching at the head of 3,000 people--so diverse and so unified--I saw what democracy looks like. And as far as "democracy" goes, part of me thinks it's a sham.
I was heartened by the sincerity of people, though, the diversity and insight, the commitment and camaraderie. There was tremendous energy there, both concentrated and diffuse. The fact that so many people care enough to march is incredible testimony to the Spirit at work in the world. (And even among those who would object to being "baptized" by me in this way, I think we could agree that there is a Spirit that is working with us all.)
The banner I carried spoke the truth. Ending the war beings at home. We are a nation, culture and economy founded on the manufacture and execution of extraordinary violence. Violence is what the loudest voices in our culture lift up as inevitable, praiseworthy, honorable, successful. This has got to change. We have to recognize the truth about violence (which stares us in the face with every act of violence, especially this war): violence doesn't work. One has to do logical somersaults to come to the conclusion that violence is a successful strategy - but our culture does it so automatically that we hardly realize it. We must take a hard, studied, earnest look at both violence and nonviolence, assess what our values are and stick to those. Instead of denying freedom to protect freedom, killing people to protect people, destroying cities to preserve them, producing enemies by trying to exterminate them, trying to out-terrorize people we claim are terrorists, we should listen to our nobler selves and our honest conclusions. Nonviolence isn't without risk, certainly, or cost. (Neither is violence, remember.) But if we honestly look at real experience and a unfiltered history, we will see that violence does not "win." Especially, especially when fighting something like "terrorism."
Ending war at all begins at home. We Americans have some real work to do inside ourselves. We Christians have some real work to do inside ourselves. In a very real sense, I wasn't marching for our political leaders (who don't listen anyway). I was marching for all the people who might hear my voice--we need to change, people! We need to change the way we live our lives, the way we conceive our world, we need to evaluate our priorities and make our actions align with our claims. Stopping the war starts with stopping the war machine(s) inside ourselves.
I marched for the Spirit. You go, Spirit. Keep on working.
I marched, chanted and cheered (and occasionally protested) sometimes as loudly as I could. I had a grand time - so grand, in fact, that when the cameras were rolling I had to remember to stop smiling and look as mad as this war makes me (not as happy as the protest was making me).
Thank God for those 3,000 people in Seattle. It was inspiring to walk with you.