On what is now the 17th day of our walk from Madison to Chicago, the number 165 does not seem to encapsulate all the progress we have made. We are 17 days and 165 miles away from the day I drove into Madison, where news arrived that Air Force One had descended on pre-dawn Kabul for the forging of the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement.
When I spoke at the May Day rally later the same day, I denounced what all indications show to be Obama’s continuing-for-another-decade war in Afghanistan. Almost immediately a lone man in the dwindling crowd started shouting vulgar slurs at me, with a lack of decency that was amazing considering young kids were present.
The psychology of the moment is worth some analysis. What of the people who approached me and thanked me for my speech after I finished— what stopped them from shouting some slogan of affirmation to counter the trash talk? Maybe it was a lack of preparedness to respond, maybe a reluctance to be the first one to take a risk.
An analogy can be made for the United States government, although of course the stakes are infinitely higher. The powerful do hope people will be uninformed and ill-prepared, about NATO or any other pressing issue of justice. They certainly want complacency to carry the day, so no one will jump-start a movement to reject the belligerent, fake virtues of poverty and war.
The miles go by, and we’ve now passed through more than 20 cities and had 5 formal speaking stops. Since this campaign started I’ve heard from people who didn’t even know NATO was in Afghanistan— they now know how the two are linked. Many others have come away with useful new information about NATO and about people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain. All people not fundamentally different from ourselves, who wish and hunger for peace and friendship.
Others expressed disbelief that protest can be effective. I maintain that first off, if we suppose it already has made a huge difference, it won’t necessarily be obvious what that difference is. It can mean we don’t yet have another war. Secondly, it’s not necessary to recruit 51% of the public to our ranks, only a critical mass of people to start a chain reaction. Two becomes 4 becomes 8 becomes 16, and after a while, a bigger group offers some anonymity, making it easier to join. A politician can usually live with one act of protest, and the higher up you go, that politician can easily weather multiple protests. But none can survive opposed to a movement that is growing exponentially.
This walk has been a movement-builder. We’ve informed and motivated people, and we have received information and motivation from folks along the way— not to mention all the other kinds of physical sustenance we have been given, for which we are very grateful.
We’ve recently been joined by a group of walkers from New York State, who brought enlarged pictures of some of the kids we know in Afghanistan to tape onto our placards. These young peacemakers are wearing blue scarves, which invoke the blue sky as a common symbol of comfort and peace. No one can buy and sell it, and it touches all nations and cultures. I’m glad the kids will be present with us on the walk in this small way because I know they will move more people to take new steps, commit acts of protest in favor of peace.
Let’s hop to it … because Uncle Sam isn’t known for his decency.
Buddy Bell is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-Violence.