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Imagine if you and four activists boldly entered a military base, severely damaged a U.S. warplane on its way to kill and maim, were arrested and then three years later a jury of your peers acquitted you of all charges. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Certainly hopeful and inspiring.
Yet if you watch TV, read the newspaper, or just talk to someone about current events, a feeling of powerless might infect your spirit. It certainly does for me. Even going to my usual websites for the alternative spin on matters mostly political, places like CounterPunch and Democracy Now, I easily get depressed and angry. Hopeless.
It’s fairly easy to sketch the myriad of evil lurking out my door: U.S. genocide/invasions of Iraq & Afghanistan (and the blood on my hands), the mostly delusional and reactionary response of the U.S. Left, the racist massacre of New Orleans, the almost complete suspension of the Bill of Rights, global warming, the deportations and harassment of the mestizo people, and the list goes on.
And then I find out tofu is bad for you (especially processed), and it’s like, good lordy, what can I eat now?
Well, before you join me in slitting your wrists or self-immolation, there is hope out there. People are resisting the isms, and are even successful!
That imaginary scenario about damaging a warplane — well, imagine no more, it has already happened. Weeks before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, five Catholic Workers (including one Nuin, whom spent a year at the local Denver Catholic Worker), went to Shannon Airport in Ireland (west of Galway), where U.S. military aircraft stop and refuel, hammered a U.S. naval plane (making it inoperable), waited to be arrested, spent weeks in jail, were bailed out and then went through three trials (the first two were mistrials based on bias of the judge), the final one fully acquitting all five activists. More here…
How about Lebanon? Even a pacifist like me found it heartening to see the Lebanese people (mostly Hezbollah) successfully defend themselves against the psychotic Israeli military and its leadership. While I would have preferred to see the Lebanese people only use nonviolence to defend themselves, I’m reminded of a speaker I heard a few years back at a local Denver anti-racism conference. This African-American scholar challenged the history of the white Left in the U.S. and reminded the audience that when the Black Panther Party of the 60s & 70s decided to use arms to defend their communities, their actions were either universally condemned by the white Left or meaningful support was not forthcoming beyond rhetoric; the white Left, the speaker said, would rather see the racist police state brutalize African-Americans who used arms as defense, then lend support. Certainly, Mohandes Gandhi said in such situations, that at least people can clearly point out which side was righteous in their cause.
That all said, there was a notable exercise of nonviolence during Israel’s military invasion of Lebanon. International Solidarity Movement all stars like Huwaida Araf, Adam Shapiro, Paul Larudee and Kathy Kelly joined dozens of Lebanese Arabs and other internationals in August/September in attempting to deliver food and medicine to villages in southern Lebanon. A partial success. A month later local direct-action all-star Dan Winters inspired many by joining the fray in Lebanon.
In Palestine and Iraq the vast majority of people simply resist by simply surviving, a fundamental and hopeful act. For Palestinians, the Zionists of Israel simply want to make life unbearable enough for the Palestinian people to simply leave and never be allowed to return, one of the final acts of colonialism. Yet, look at the people of Gaza, who live in prison, regularly bombed and invaded by the Israeli military, and yet, they survive, often barely, but they’re surviving, still having weddings, births, funerals, eating, farming, teaching and keeping on.
For the people of Iraq, the U.S. simply doesn’t care about them, nor does the U.S. want to steal their land; the U.S. simply wants to control the oil and be a military buffer against nationalism & pan-arabism, and, ultimately China. Yet, the struggle to just live and survive has not been decimated, and for that we can be hopeful.
How about all the Palestinian villages who have led the most inspiring nonviolent direct action campaigns to stop Israel’s apartheid wall and the seizure of their pastoral land? You’d think the white liberal Left in the U.S. would be all over this incredible David & Goliath struggle, lending money and bodies to the courageous Palestinians defending their land. Villages like Bil’in offer examples for all us in the face of adversity.
From a 12/21/06 story from Bil’in:
“They took away the land I used to graze my sheep. They uprooted my family’s olive trees. I used to plant beans, wheat and potatoes. I’m not allowed to get to my land now that it’s behing the wall” says Wadji Burnat, a 50-year old farmer from the village. “The Israeli government is a government of thieves. They only care about a small part of their own people. They want to expel the Palestinians.”
A shout out to Father Peter Dougherty and Sister Mary Ellen Gundeck, members of the Michigan Peace Team, who a month ago took the simple and noble task of flying into Palestine, slipping into Gaza and taking a seat as a human shield in front of a Palestinian home under threat of bombing by Israel.
Val and I had quite the time with Peter (and maybe Mary Ellen, we can’t remember her) during our last visit 5 years ago to Palestine, joining together with other members of the Int’l Solidarity Movement in supporting Palestinian nonviolent direct action.
Closer to home, cheers of love out to the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have gone AWOL instead of violating their conscience to involve themselves in the U.S. genocide of Iraq. Many have rightly fled to Canada, some have faced court-martial and years in prison in the U.S. The first officer to refuse orders is Lt. Ehren Watada, whose mom, Carolyn Ho, this month has been on a speaking tour talking about parents have a duty to prevent their children from participating in illegal wars.
For years I’ve had this dream of getting hundreds of U.S. moms and dads taking flights into Amman and Baghdad and then dramatically going to find and retrieve (yanking them by their ears?) their soldier-children. What shame that would bring the U.S.! Cindy Sheehan and Fernando Suarez del Solar are vestiges of such a drama.
During a speech at the August, 2006 Veterans for Peace convention in Seattle, Watada cracked emotion stating, “to stop an illegal and unjust war, soldiers can choose to stop fighting it.”
The most powerful element of the anti-war movement against U.S. genocide in Vietnam were the returning Vets, resisters and deserters who used their privileged positions to take radical positions and action. Though I have a separate post with a quick run-down of the best movies I saw this year, this is a good segue to Sir No Sir, a new film documentary (that has been released for rental), about those Vietnam Vets who resisted. In their promotional material, the filmmakers, thank them, have made the obvious links between then and now go to their website and click on the “Punk Ass Crusade” link).
This film will leave you teared up and inspired.
While on our honeymoon in the UK and Ireland, Val and I were demoralized by the realization that racism against immigrants (especially Arabs and Muslims) among the whites of Europe is even WORSE than whites in the U.S.
So where does one look for a source of tolerance and more? You have to be a moron not to notice the two-continent wide indigenous and mestizo uprising taking place. From Chiapas to Oaxaca, Mexico’s current uprisings against the state and capitalism, to Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador’s leftist indigenous and mestizo leaders advancing socialism that is unprecedented in my lifetime.
When is the last time a world leader took the stage at the U.N. and said of Pres. Bush “And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday, the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.” Brandishing a recent book of Noam Chomsky, Hugo Chavez continued, “the world is waking up. It’s waking up all over, and people are standing up. I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare, because the rest of us are standing up, all those of us who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations.”
With but relatively small symbolic anti-war protests hanging around like worn threads, one of the only truly inspiring mobilizations in the U.S. this past year were the mass immigrant marches demanding respect, demanding amnesty, demanding to be treated with dignity. On March 25th, over 50,000 immigrants and supporters took to the streets in Denver; on May 1st, around 100,000. On April 10th, even Grand Junction, Colorado boasted a pro-immigrant rally of over 3000 people! In Tijuana on May 1st, over 1000 people blocked the border in solidarity with immigrants north of the border.
On May 1st, Val and I were in Portland, Oregon, at the 10,000+ strong pro-immigrant rally and march. The pre-march rally was dominated by speakers from various left-wing parties, often making the connection between worker rights and human rights. The highlight, however, was the aging grace of Carrie Dann.
Carrie of the Western Shoshone Defense Project has in action and in word struggled for the inherent rights of her people and the protection of their land. At the rally in Portland she noted with barely any sarcasm how the native people of this land have long had a problem with immigrants. How ironic now that after 500 years of conquest, the original people and their mixed descendants are now treated as the newcomers, the immigrants, the illegals, the aliens and so on. And with that millions marched across the U.S., to raise a voice that had rarely been heard before.
Clearly a shift is taking place. While it’s way too early to tell what’s going to happen in the U.S. (the white supremacist nature of much of the U.S. an obvious challenge), I find, in the midst of the near silent-static resistance in the U.S., these voices of the original people a hopeful sign.
MARK SCHNEIDER is a human rights activist.