A Man of Peace in a Time of War

This was written a few years ago when Bush was first rattling his sabres to go war. I can’t currently find the words to describe my disappointment over our delayed stay in Afghanistan, but I thought this might suffice.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end they always fail. Think of it, ALWAYS.
– Mahatma Gandhi

I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

May 2003 – Los Angeles, California

I’ll be the first one to admit that I have not been the most politically motivated individual in these United States and have often looked at the workings of our government with hands raised or shoulders shrugged. And I confess with a hanged head that I did not even vote in the last election.

I was in North Carolina on voting day, moving from Asheville to Wilmington. It’s possible that I would have made a more concerted effort to take part in my duty of democracy if I felt that democracy could actually be attained. But as it was, the ballot for President of the United States was limited to very few parties in the state of North Carolina, none of which I felt represented me, leaving me with the unwinnable choice of finding the coin in the Devil’s left hand or his right, only to find out that the wily shyster had hidden it behind my ear. As it turned out, being actually registered in Florida, who knows what my vote would have counted for or if it would have been counted at all.

sanfranYet, in the last several months, considering the international allegations being made against my country as a warmonger, I have gained more of an interest in our government and the goings on in its hierarchy. And in these dreadful days of “the war without end” – from the rumors of war yet to begin to the whispers of its onset – I found the desire and opportunity to become a little more educated on the subject and a little more involved. In October, I joined several – 42,000 according to the San Francisco Chronicle, 72,000 according to the protest organizers – in protest of Bush’s war against Iraq, marching from the Embarcado to the corner of McAllister and Larkin for a rally in front of the civic center.

To be honest, I was originally guided by a curious sense of ambivalence more than anything, but the more thought I gave to it, and the more I looked into the subject, the more I considered making my own sign to carry along with the others who filled the streets of San Francisco. In the state of fear that has gripped our nation since September 11, 2001, our reaction of defense seems to have begun a transmogrification into offense – the fear of what has happened causing us, as a country, to do most anything to stop it from happening again. And as the Bush administration guides us toward what they consider an increased sense of security, it would seem that our methods for maintaining our peaceful and free way of life have brought us to the brink of becoming what we fear the most. We are answering even the threat of danger with full-scale war, which can only be considered as terrorism by a larger, more complex organization than the small groups of militants to whom terrorism is commonly attributed.

I agree with most every other flag-waving American that Saddam Hussein is a power-hungry madman. And I would agree that the Iraqi system of democracy, where 99.3% of the population turned out to vote for the only person on the ballot, Mr. Hussein himself, is not democracy at all. But I would also contend that our own fearless leader shows questionable sanity and just as much hunger for power. And I would add that our own system of government, where several candidates for President of the United States are not even on the ballot in every state, where we’re left so disillusioned in the system with a measly two parties for a melting pot culture, that roughly 67% of the population don’t even bother to vote, isn’t exactly teeming with democracy either.

On New Year’s Eve here in LA, a few hours after the ball had dropped and I had gotten quite chummy with Jim Beam, I wandered into a debate on voting. My opponent and I saw eye to eye on choice of beverage but not much else. He compared himself to the Watchers in the Highlander movies and called himself an observer but saw no hope in his one little vote making a difference. I figured one hour a day, once every four years, to voice one’s opinion on how things in this country should be run, wasn’t too much to ask. And as futile as it may have seemed to me at various points of my life, I am now a registered voter and am looking at my government, my country, and my world with new eyes. And I am following up my visions with action.

In January, there was another march here in LA, a week before the second San Francisco march. I arrived at the corner of Olympic and Broadway, melted into the mass of people, was handed a sign with a little Iraqi girl on it, and started collecting all of the literature I was handed. The organizers had a small rally from the back of a flatbed truck, and I stopped to listen for a while. A local Presbyterian pastor spoke of how religious groups need to be united in standing against this war and all methods of violence.

I yelled an “Amen.”

The Green Party had booths at both ends of the march to give out information and register people to vote. I wondered why the Republicans and Democrats didn’t put up booths. I decided to remain unaffiliated for the time being but took some literature to read later.

I was to meet a friend at the corner of 8th and Hill, so I stepped into a donut shop to grab a cup of coffee while I waited.

“What’s going on out there?” A Jewish woman in her early sixties was motioning toward the mass of people a block away, as she entered with the ding of a door chime.

“It’s an anti-war rally.” I held up my sign, which was leaning against the counter, while I paid for my caffeine and sugar.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re just cowards. You’re just afraid.”

“‘Scuse me?”

“You’re afraid to go to war. I’m a Democrat. And I’m backing my President. He knows what he’s doing. You’re just afraid.” Her voice got louder as she spoke.

“Ma’am, for one,” I smiled, “why are you yelling at me?” She caught herself and softened. “Secondly, what am I afraid of?”

“You’re afraid of fighting for what’s right.”

I said, “Ma’am, I’m not afraid to fight for what’s right. That’s what I’m doing here.” I motioned to the little girl on my sign. “I am afraid of becoming a person who would kill this little girl because I feel threatened. I’m afraid of sacrificing my humanity to my fears.”

“Well, what if they have weapons? What if they have bombs?”

“Then they are just as dangerous as us, and we should be careful not to provoke them.”

We bantered back and forth, as she tried to convince me that our military was fighting for my right to take part in this rally, but I reminded her that my right to do so was won in the Revolutionary War and needn’t be fought for again. We soon parted, and though our ideas still differed, she agreed that I had every right to do what I was doing. We smiled at each other as I left. We were at peace with each other, and I considered it a good start.

I’ve taken part in two other demonstrations since January. One was a march in February, which was mentioned briefly on the protestnews, and the other was on Saturday. Both began at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. It wasn’t until Saturday morning that I actually decided to take part in the march down Sunset Boulevard to the CNN building. I spent the week receiving my information from the television, and up until Friday night, I felt a growing sense of apathy toward the war It wasn’t until I started listening to KPFA, free speech radio here in LA, that I started to understand that history was taking place just down the street from where I live.

Since the war began, I watched it on the evening news as well as morning, noon, and night. And for the first few days it didn’t seem as bad as I felt it was.

Though I’ve heard enough conspiracy theory about our government, especially the Bush administration, to find at least some plausible truth; though I have participated in demonstrations, standing alongside a myriad of Americans opposed to the misuse of power our nation has unleashed upon the world; though I realize that television was created for entertainment and know that the device can be used to sway the mentality of the individual as well as the masses, and have been personally taken captive many times by its wily snares of Technicolor dreams; the war didn’t seem that bad. Sure, war is bad, but explained as it was by our military personnel, government officials, and newscasters, there almost seemed a rationale to it. The bombs burst in the distance, and it seemed that casualties were low.

And then I stopped and prayed.

Regardless of any rationale I may come up with or hear; regardless of how much I fear the possibility of this power-crazed dictator attacking us with the very weapons of mass destruction my country sold him; regardless of how noble I may feel by liberating these people from this ruthless tyrant and a life of violence and oppression; regardless of how many of his own countrymen this enemy has killed; we will never defeat him by becoming what he is and attempting to match his numbers in the struggle for control of Iraq. And yet, as it is, with our tumultuous American tempers ranging from blood boiling with anger to frozen with fear, rationale has ousted reason. No matter how good one’s intentions may be, violence cannot bring peace. A man with blood on his hands will always have a wounded heart.

Thinking thus, I sought out like-minds. Friday night, KPFK was taking callers, and there were plenty of whacked-out ideas for protest, like the idea for everyone to agree not to drive for just one day, but the one I decided to partake in was the march and rally at the CNN building. It was proven to this group of people that they weren’t getting much press for their demonstrations, and the press they were getting did not shed a very good light. Most of what I have seen on the television of protests has been extremely short and consisted mostly of telling how many people were being arrested.

And to be honest, watching the network news, seeing that the numbers didn’t seem that great, and people were getting arrested, it didn’t make me too excited to go. Forgive me if I consider that that might just be CNN’s idea. So I went to Hollywood and Vine and met with the people there at noon on Saturday. The crowd consisted of people of every race, creed, religion, and age, even a few Republicans, all gathered together to agree that they will not stand idly by while their government converts to gangsterism. Though the crowd was varied and the philosophies were as broad as the landscape, we were united in our desire for peace and harmony. The people were friendly. Concerned and upset, but built up by the companionship of their neighbors. With all of my travels, of spanning the country in the search for America, this is where I found it.

The signs and banners were far less obscene than many I saw at the other rallies. I think the protesters are doing all they could to make their message more palatable for network censors in hopes that they will actually be shown on camera. The message this crowd had for our troops, the one they will never hear on the truncated editorials they watch on television, is that they are supported. “We love them, and we want them home. But regardless of how much honor they show in fighting for our country, we feel that they are being unnecessarily utilized to fight an unjust war.”
The police were out in force, and before we started the march, the man with the microphone reminded us that the police were there to protect and serve us, as we took part in our constitutional right to assemble and protest. And then we began, shouting chants along the way:

“WHO’S STREETS? OUR STREETS! WHO’S STREETS? OUR STREETS!”
“NBC AND CNN, YOU’RE IN BED WITH BUSH AGAIN!”
“WHAT DO WE WANT? PEACE! WHEN DO WE WANT IT? NOW!”
“THERE’S NO POWER LIKE THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE CUZ THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE WON’T STOP!”

By the time we reached the CNN building, we were pretty stoked. And though the leader began another clever rhyme regarding corporate media, the overpowering sentiment of the crowd was a simple message, a challenge, and democratic plea, as all of us yelled over and over again: TELL THE TRUTH!

I’m still not sure how many of us were there, but we filled the street, and it took a while for those in back to catch up and join us. We had a few speakers from various organizations, and celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Eddie Vedder, and Pedro Almodóvar. As Tim Robbins began to speak, he softly asked everyone to take a step back. The crowd moved back, and as he asked for yet another step back, the people drifted back peacefully, wafting like the scent of burning sage that permeated the area.

And when we had made our message known, when we had demonstrated how a group of people could gather together peacefully and prove their faith in democracy, and do so without a permit, we marched back in solidarity. As I left the rally and headed back to where I parked my bike, I was sure to thank the officers I passed for their help.

What I saw on the news that night was nothing of what I saw that day. For the hour that the newscast spoke of war, as military personnel tried to make us understand the weapons and strategies we are using, as government officials reluctantly told us that this war would last longer and take more lives than previously imagined, there was less than five minutes on the millions of people around the globe who protested that day.

The rally I saw was not an everyday occurrence here in LA, but lately it’s becoming so, and I find it amazing how little time was spent reporting on it.

The protests I have seen on television have seemed quite distant, almost as distant as the bombs. Most of what I have seen of the protests on television are wide shots of the crowds, where their signs can’t be seen, banners can’t be read, and their message can’t be heard. It would seem that those Americans who can resist apathy and take part in speaking out when they disapprove of the actions their government takes are never truly introduced to America. Basically, if you can’t get on TV, you’re not going to be heard. That’s the way that America is introduced to what they believe.

And what I saw Saturday night was no different. There was a shot of the front of the march, and I tried to spot myself under the big, yellow banner, but it cut quickly away. A few people were interviewed, one of them being the guy who sold me my WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER T-shirt (to point out that some people were there just to make a buck, demoralizing the event by focusing on the dollar). The story then moved on to the seemingly contrary “Support the Troops” rally, where the numbers were much smaller, but more people were interviewed. The segment dwindled down to a group of a dozen or so pre-pubescent “Support the Troops” demonstrators and came to a smiling end as the girls in the brightly colored T-shirts fulfilled their mission to be the last demonstrators on the street. Democracy was in action throughout the world, and it was mentioned as a side note. The Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times had two pages with the word “protest” on them. Both were advertisements.

Forgive me if I seem like a crazed prophet of doom, but the voice of the people is being silenced. I doubt you’ll find me preaching from the street corner. I have no desire to be arrested as a martyr for the cause just yet. That’s a story that’s already been told and need not be relived. Though I did come close.

A few hours before the Oscars on Sunday, I decided to scope the scene. The Kodak Theater was blocked off completely, as I rode round the perimeter. It reminded me so much of walking around Ground Zero in New York last October, as if the bombs of 9/11 had found another target. How much of America was destroyed that day?
Someone told me the day before about a protest and candlelight vigil, so I decided to check it out. I’ll be safe and say there were about five hundred people there when I arrived. There was a flat bed truck with a Mexican band singing about peace to a cross-legged crowd at the junction of Orange and Sunset. I registered to vote Green, noticing, again, that the two parties in power were nowhere to be seen, and made my way toward Sunset Boulevard. It was blocked off with metal gates and filled with protesters and movie fans alike as far as the eye could see. The passing crowd was swaying east, so I followed the flow, and we streamed on down the way. A block down, all of those people who were shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk burst out on the next road and headed toward the next cross street. I really hadn’t planned on protesting any more than wearing my new T-shirt. But off I went, following the crowd.
I was halfway up the next block when I heard the sirens blow, and half the crowd turned and went the other way. I stopped for a moment and considered going with them. But whatever was going to happen on a day like that in LA, I wanted to witness it. I went Zen and walked forward.

A half-dozen police motorcycles were an arrow in the street, with a row of cruisers as the shaft. By the time I reached the front, the police were standing with their hands on their batons. A few of the younger protesters with signs taped to their chests declaring that they had been arrested the day before were starting to ask, “Who’s streets?”
“Our streets,” I gulped and took a few more steps forward.

The crowd moaned a bit and thinned a bit more, as we slowly started to retreat. I suppose I didn’t move quickly enough, but I thought about Seattle and figured I may just be a part of history here. The worst crime I had committed was wearing an opinion on a T-shirt and walking down the street. I understood that the police were doing their jobs, and I wasn’t going to interfere or harass them, but I sure wasn’t going to walk the other way just because they showed up prepared to beat me with a stick.

A few of them had video cameras they used to shoot film of the crowd. As one of them pointed it at me, I gave him a nice profile and took a look back down the block. Another squad was at the other end. We were trapped. These boys were not playing. With all the shit that’s gone down, they were having none of this tonight.

The officers nearest us mounted their bikes and headed forward. Their engines growled like a wolf pack as they moved forward corralling their sheep. There were about a seventy-five of us left when they had herded us together. We were all shoulder to shoulder. The officers dismounted, batons cocked and ready for a phallic demonstration. It was a few minutes before anyone made a move. The first was the officer lifting his bullhorn to ask if anyone wanted to leave. The next was the crowd raising their hands.

He said they would let us go in groups of four. The deal was, we had to go to our cars and go home. If they saw us again, we would be arrested. Militarism declared that there would be no protest, and our voices were silenced before they reached a mutter.

They slowly began to let people out and stopped as more officers moved in. In every direction, a block’s worth of LAPD and CHP had swarmed on our uprising. We hadn’t even chanted before they showed up.

The ones who had been arrested the night before started the chants.

LET US GO! LET US GO!
WE ALL LEAVE TOGETHER! WE ALL LEAVE TOGETHER!

Their fear was that by dividing us, it would be easier for the police to make arrests. I kept my mouth shut and tried to stay Zen.

I called a few people on the cell phone and found Matt at home, telling him with great glee where I was and what I was doing. He immediately began to worry and warned me not to protest as a pretty, blonde, hippie chick handed me a flyer on what to do in case I’m arrested for civil disobedience. Matt and I argued politics until it was my turn to leave, and I walked through the labyrinth of law enforcement that had descended on our quiet city street.

There was a voice message from Glenn, inviting me to watch the Oscars on the big screen at his place. I considered skipping the Oscars on television and continuing my protest, but I promised the cops, as well as Matt, that I would leave and saw the Oscars to be an historic event as well. Plus, I was dying to hear Michael Moore’s speech.

Monday night, I watched Fox11 News at Ten. I can honestly say that I get more accurate news from Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon on Saturday Night Live. I watched Fox11 News with the same candor I use to watch SNL and was struck with true shock and awe as the propaganda streamed on. On SNL, I know I am being entertained, but I am also learning. I look for humor, which causes me to think, and I can better understand the ideas they are portraying. In addition, the writers on SNL are clever and seem to have a much greater respect for the intelligence of their audience than the good folks at Fox.

The first story was on the War. Obviously. They went over strategies, bombs, and prisoners of war. They moved on to their wives at home, who worried about them, but supported them. One of the wives mentioned how it pains her to see anti-war protests. Another woman said it was fine to have an opinion, but you have to support your troops.
CUT TO: a “Support Your Troops” rally, where the crowd was dazzling in red, white, and blue, as they smiled and waved flags.

CUT TO: CHICAGO – CLOSE UP – HANDCUFFS. “About one hundred protesters took to the streets.” (INSERT – LOW ANGLE – CROWD CHANTING) More shots of protesters being dragged away as the reporter said that they were protesting the news media’s coverage. Is there any other way to take that than a slap in the face?

Next was the report on Michael Moore, whose “speech had nothing to do with his film.” They showed the clip of the Oscar broadcast where Mr. Moore protested the war and lambasted Bush. Then they asked the question to the average person on the street, “What do you think of Michael Moore’s speech?” The first guy was livid and said Michael Moore was a disgrace to America. Another said he has the right to say what he wants to say but went too far. The other two were in between. So, according to Fox11, they couldn’t find a single person in LA who agreed with what he said. I saw a crowd of them this morning off of Wilshire, protesting in a park, but none of them have a voice on Fox.
I was truly shocked at how slanted the report was, how shameful it made democracy. I was awed to see that there is no media coverage for those who wage peace but only for those who wage war. And I find it an almost futile effort to demonstrate when my cries are sure to fall on deaf ears. And though I find hope in the stories of protest from the generation before me, I realize that spring of ’03 is a different world than the summer of ’69.

We live in frightening times with shouts of international terrorists and murmurs of martial law. And now more than ever, I am waging the fight for peace. I’m not looking for a face to my enemy. I’m not going to blame Bush any more than I am going to blame Saddam, Clinton, or Rumsfeld. I don’t have any delusions about a single person or even regime at fault for this occurrence but see the cause to be our general mentality.

peace sign3To be a man of peace, I must allow it to encompass all that I am. I cannot raise a gun to another man and hope to achieve peace. I must accept it as it is. I cannot strive for peace or struggle to achieve it, for in so doing, I obliterate it. I must feel it in my very being and exude it in everything that I do. And though the world is at war around me, though terror echoes from every wall, though this play would seem to be a tragedy, I am at peace with my part in it.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s