Saturday, April 22, 2006

In praise of seemingly futile antiwar vigils

The U.S. antiwar movement is and has been, ineffectual. I write that as someone who helped found War Times/Tiempo de Guerras in 2002 and worked distributing the newspaper through 2004. I write that full of respect for all the many folks who have worked long and hard to cajole, encourage, and rally whatever sanity survives in a United States panic stricken about terrorism. I write that while still encouraging everyone who can to turn out for the April 29 mobilization in New York City. Ineffectual or not, we still have a job to do and even a majority on our side whose voices have not been heeded by our rulers.

But today I want to celebrate the little mobilizations -- the tiny little weekly vigils that have created a steady, continuing antiwar presence in cities across the country. The movement has waxed and waned, but some folks have simply stood their ground, week after week, at intersections, in front of post offices, outside recruiting offices, carrying the message that "peace is the right way; peace is possible."

Helena Cobban recently described how years of taking part in such a vigil gave her hope:

It's been an interesting experience, standing there throughout the years, seeing the seasons turn....

I would say that throughout 2006 so far, the amount of anti-war honking has increased in an almost linear way, week by week.

On several occasions throughout the past couple of years, my friend and co-vigiller Heather has said to me, "Helena, I can't believe we're still here. Don't tell me we'll still be here this time next year!" And I've always said to her, "Heather, expect to be here for the very long haul." Heather wasn't there yesterday. But as I peered into every car that passed trying to establish eye contact and see who all these people were who were honking for us, I suddenly thought, "Hey, maybe we won't have to be here this time next year. ..."

I don't know if Helena is right. She'd be the first to say she doesn't know either. The Bushies' saber rattling toward Iran suggests she may be horribly wrong.

But I think she catches what these persistent little demonstrations do for the peace movement: they provide a focus for our need for hope in our work for peace. Since 2001, the U.S. peace movement has been in a bind: it is easy and appropriate to name the United States as an international villain, a rogue elephant. But with who or what can the peace movement claim to stand? Certainly not with the current official enemy state, Iran. Not with the fundamentalist-ruled client governments we've imposed on Iraq and Afghanistan. Not with Muqtada al-Sadr or Mahmood Ahmadinejad, or even most of the Iraqi "resistance." Maybe some peace activists can stand with the emerging populisms in Latin America, but those countries are far from where the U.S. is currently throwing its military might around.

The persistent little vigils are an attempt to locate that vital "something to be for" in our own communities, as vigillers together with each other and as parts of the larger web of life that characterizes our towns and cities. Regularity creates familiarity and, gradually, disarms some hostility. Mere tenacity draws attention to alternative visions. The vigil becomes a part of the landscape, not only of the vigillers, but also for the whole community. This is not dramatic, but it keeps the possibility of peace on the agenda. That is a lot in these difficult times.

For a pretty extensive list of local vigils (93), see the United for Peace and Justice events calendar.

1 comment:

sfmike said...

It makes me feel better when I go to the Quaker vigil in San Francisco in front of the Federal building on Thursdays at noon (when I get a chance). The participants are mostly elderly, individualistic, crotchety and all oddly holy. It's just nice sometimes hanging around that energy.

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