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Inside Agitators Stride Toward Peace

Walk to the NATO Summit

by BUDDY BELL

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.