The staples of the modern peace event were all in place: big signs, slogans, flags, banners, beards, gray hair, glasses, multi-hued clothing melding into a psychedelic pastiche of memes and messages: Support Peace, Bush is Insane, No Escalation, Bush Lied: 653,000 Died, End the War in Iraq, No More War, Refuse Illegal War. I scampered around downtown Austin, taking pictures (two new albums posted), spreading ribbons, and talking with a lot of different people. The vibe at these events is generally cheerful, probably because there is a recognition and a relief at finding that no, apparently I’m not the only soul that feels my individual will is not being represented by my government. There are a lot of smiles, and it’s not hard to strike up conversations with people; there’s a very sort of Woodstockish vibe that I felt a lot in my youth (and again, I suspect I’m not alone in that).
"To work for peace, you must have a peaceful heart. When you do, you are the child of God. But many who work for peace are not at peace. They still have anger and frustration, and their work is not really peaceful. We cannot say that they are touching the Kingdom of God. To preserve peace, our hearts must be at peace with the world, with our brothers and our sisters. When we try to overcome evil with evil, we are not working for peace.”
asked the question, “Sometimes I wonder, what the hell are we doing? I mean,
carry another sign, sign another petition, how come we’re not doing anything?
We ought to be out in the streets, stopping traffic, getting in people’s faces!”
It was true that there were a bunch of different people promoting a bunch of
different causes: going to Crawford; protesting at the trial of Ehren K. Watada;
joining the Green Party; joining the Socialist Party; demanding impeachment; planning
the next protest, the next march, the next, the next, the next . . . but you
know, I thought about that getting out in the street thing, and that just doesn’t
seem like the right response. See, most people driving by were either honking
and waving in support, or at least passively ignoring us. Only a handful
reacted angrily. So why provoke anger in others? Why tell others they are wrong
because they don’t think like us or believe the same things as us? Is that what
it looks like to seek peace?
Many parallels are being drawn between Iraq and Vietnam, and we watch in horror as the president leads us down a road that looks very, very familiar. And yet, the thought struck me, has the peace movement, if there is such a thing, learned anything since the Sixties? Can we use the same methods and make any sort of discernable progress or difference? Are we being progressive in the truest sense of the word, or are we always acting in reaction to those in power? I think it’s time for a new paradigm of peace, and I offer some initial, tentative, and exploratory ideas on the topic. Dialogue and debate are heartily invited; one thing I need we all need to be doing is listening to people with opposing viewpoints, I mean really listening, not just plotting our next point in the argument while they’re talking. OK, so on with it.
of the problems with the whole concept of a peace movement, as pointed out in
an interesting article on
There is much confusion over what "peace" is (or should be), which results in a plurality of movements seeking diverse ideals of peace. Particularly, "anti-war" movements often have ill-defined goals.
It is often not clear whether a movement or a particular protest is against war in general, as in pacifism, or against one side's participation in a war (but not the other's). Indeed, some observers feel that this unclarity has represented a key part of the propaganda strategy of those seeking victory in, e.g., the Vietnam War.
So, if our peace movement doesn’t have any clearly defined, well-articulated principles, it’s going to be easy to fragment it. And my feeling is that if our events are always protests AGAINST something, then it’s time to ask ourselves, what are we FOR?
In reference to the point about the government using the “unclarity” of the movement in its propaganda strategy, I submit this from Time:
President Bush on Saturday challenged lawmakers skeptical of his new Iraq plan to propose their own strategy for stopping the violence in Baghdad.
"To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible," Bush said.
I offer here some modest proposals for how those of us who yearn for peace might use our attention, intention, and actions in more productive and truly progressive ways. It is my wish to implement these proposals in my own life, and I invite others to consider them, experiment with them and observe the results, and share ideas in an effort to find common ground and guiding principles.
All of this
is built upon a foundation of my belief that true Peace Work is really inner
work first. Am I holding my own values, beliefs and actions up to the same
intense scrutiny that I turn on Bush and his colleagues and supporters? Do I
know what my defining values and beliefs are? Have I considered how they affect
my actions? Can I objectively observe where I am out of integrity before I level
that charge at anyone else? What am I doing to bring peace into the lives of my
family, my co-workers, my fellow Austinites, the people I interact with on the
Internet? Am I listening only to voices that agree with my positions, or am I
peacefully listening to opposing viewpoints, all the while respecting the
speaker as a human being and staying tolerant even when I can’t understand why
they seem so wrong?
I want to
be an active participant in the burgeoning peace movement, and here are a few
ideas that I’d like to implement as things get busier:
1) Spiritual Practice: I have a Centering Prayer (silent
meditation) practice that sustains me when I do it, but often gets put aside
when more “important” things seem to take precedence. So I renew my commitment
to practicing twice a day, 20 minutes each time. It doesn’t matter if you do yoga,
Zen meditation, hike in nature, or howl at the moon at midnight, as long as you
connect with Spirit. Because in the world of Spirit, all human beings are
connected as One. I know that sounds like a platitude, but to me, that seems
like the essential starting point. Unity is elusive, but it’s the fundamental
truth, and the separation and alienation that seem so real are, at the deepest
level, illusory. Drop into silence, remember the big picture.
2) Service: How am I helping the people in my immediate
circle of contact? Am I getting too wrapped up in busy-ness to notice that my
wife needs my love and respect, and my daughter needs my to drop everything and
give her my full attention while we read books, play with trains, or kick the
soccer ball around? Am I practicing what I preach when I’m with my students? Am
I taking any actions to volunteer my time and efforts in service of others? Again,
this is crucial to peace.
3) Positive Message: When I go out to a peace event, am I
clear about why I’m there? Can I articulate a clear, positive message if I’m
asked? If I could say three sentences to President Bush, would I waste them
telling him what a lousy job I think he’s doing? Or would I ask him to imagine
the compassionate and peaceful good will we could create in the world if we
immediately stopped funding the war, invested that money in health care,
alternative energy technology, feeding the hungry, and rebuilding a sustainable
culture at home and in the places we’ve destroyed? We need to establish a
positive, peaceful vision of what this world could be like without war. That’s
far more powerful than angrily complaining about the way things are.
4) Deep Listening: Find someone whose views are different
from your own, and practice listening to what they say. If you really work at
this, they might even do the same for you. Keep the idea of creative resolution
in mind. Believe it or not, conservatives don’t like this war much more than we
do, but they see it as necessary to achieve peace. At some deep, distant level,
most of us do all want the same things. How can we change the nature of discourse
in this country? If we were to listen deeply and treat others fairly, a lot of
the venom and vitriol from our “opponents” would be completely neutralized.
Easy? Hell no. We all want to be right, and we all think we are. But let’s
practice the kind of diplomacy on our level that we wish to see at the highest
levels of government.
To sum this up, if I can, what I’m trying to say is that we need to build and strengthen and nurture and cultivate this vision of a peaceful world instead of trying to tear down the other side, whom we perceive to be the problem. To paraphrase Ram Dass, peace is an inside job. When we find it on the inside, I believe we’ll see a lot more of it on the outside.