As I sat and listened to the discussion taking place on the Campaign Nonviolence Conference call last night, I couldn’t help but reflect on how and why I ever got involved doing actions against war. As Cindy Sheehan spoke, I thought, isn’t it too bad that it takes losing a child to have the light shine in your eyes and realize that you must do something to try to stop this insanity?
The idea that one person cannot make a difference really comes out of fear because it is frightening when you stand up to challenge a whole society that seems to be bent on destroying itself. My mind drifted back to my early years and how I never could understand what wars were all about. I knew I was safe because they weren’t happening here. Still, I vaguely recall an uncle returning from one of the conflicts, shattered and never able to discuss whatever hell he went through. I remember being totally confused as to why we had troops in Korea and then astounded with the “cease fire” as if this was a way to end the war.
Being a child of the ’60s, I fell right into demonstrations. Coming from a conservative Republican family, I was the anomaly. A brother jokes that I must have fallen from the nest, but no – I didn’t fall, I jumped! And so on and on to marches and demonstrations and sitting in front of draft boards chanting, “Hell no, we won’t go!” I had the car in Greenwich Village so I got to drive young resisters over the border to our neighbor to the north. Boys burned their draft cards and we girls burned our bras. We thought we were getting the message across. Maybe we were just helping ourselves to feel better.
I had no TV, but somehow news got through whether I liked it or not. Music was the only thing that saved my sanity, although most were protest songs. When the newspaper arrived, I turned quickly to the comics page. The “funnies,” that’s all I needed a paper for.
As I listened last night I heard it said that society thinks “we have to have an enemy so we can make bombs.” But who is our enemy? And then it hit me!
I dug out the old Walt Kelly comic book I’ve saved since 1972 and read it through once again. And while I can laugh at it, I realize why I kept it. It is like a Bible, in a way, with prophecies that we ignore. A tale of environmental destruction and bureaucratic idiocy done tongue in cheek with cute little cartoon drawings. I’m glad I kept it. Yes, we have met the enemy, haven’t we?
So, what to do? Organize, of course. Well, we’ve done that. I am amazed to find so many already existing peace action groups just here in my local area. I agree that there has been a “tsunami of nonviolence actions since Trump.” Yet, most of the organizations I’ve found have existed for many years.
Why haven’t I heard from them before this? Where were their voices? Now suddenly all of them want help so we lift our arms out as an octopus with eight tentacled branches and secure each group to the whole because we are all working for the same goal.
As we go forward, it has become evident that the only way to attack the threats that exist is to collaborate and strive to find the common ground. We start with issues right here at home in our own towns where there is war every day in one form or another, whether it be perils to our environment, risks of homelessness, or blatant discrimination. Even in small town America, all this exists. So, we start at the bottom and we build up.
To begin with, we talk to each other and we listen. One group held “Meet in the Middle” and invited folks from both sides of the fence to sit down and talk to each other to “explore shared values and build respect.” Many of us attended a S.H.A.R.E. Communications Workshop (Stop, Hold, Ask, Risk, Explore) that works in business, so why not elsewhere? Monthly, another group reviews with a diverse selection of community members, city council members, and police what more we can do to dispel fear and rout out poverty and help the homeless.
Tsunamis are risky here by the ocean, but this might be a good one.
This article was first published in the Pace e Bene blog of July 27, 2017 and with a slight change is still relevant today as we approach the election year of 2024. Ruth Ann Angus is Director of Yes We Can Peacebuilders in Morro Bay, CA on the Central Coast pf California.