On Thursday, November 13, I dropped down in my seat at the hearing room of the House Armed Services Committee on the Administration’s Strategy and Military Campaign against ISIL, a little depressed at what was to come. More war, less hope for peace. Just two days earlier, on Veterans Day, I was at the widely advertised and well attended “Concert for Valor” on the National Mall. Veterans Day was previously known as Armistice Day, started after WWI as a day to celebrate an end to war. Now it’s a day to glorify warriors, and I was threatened with arrest for having a sign that read “Celebrate the Peacemakers”.
The moment I sat down in the Congressional hearing and heard the conversation between Chairman Buck McKeon and the witness Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a warm rush of thoughts came over me that made me feel very nostalgic. Here I am, after 13 years that has not only brought our country deeper in wars, deeper in debt, but also made us less safe and less free. I started thinking about my father. He fought in the “good war”, World War II. He was only 18 years old when he was sent off to war. Then came my older brother. He joined the army to go to Vietnam because he got a low number in the draft lottery. And my sister joined the anti-war movement–marching, fighting and being beaten at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago trying to end that war and get our brother back, alive. I remembered my father’s disappointment that his son had to go fight for his country thousands of miles away while our hometown city of Detroit burned because of racism–– racism against those who were also fighting for their country in foreign wars.
And now me, protesting for 10 years against a crazy, endless war in the Middle East that my country’s leaders can barely understand, let alone explain to its people. And for my two boys, growing up in the wake of 9/11, all they know is war.
I sat there listening to the war talk, unable to recall what it was like 9/11. Before endless war, hate, division. Before “Take off your shoes and your belt” at the airport. Before “No signs allowed” on the National Mall. Before NSA watching over us “for our own safety”.
And then it happened. I felt a rush of freedom and patriotism—the same feelings I used to have before being told to live my life in fear. I wanted those values again. I know the truth. I’ve been there. Seen it. My father, brother and sister taught me. “You live in the United States, land of the free, home of the brave” they said. Their words were ringing in my ears. “You are a patriot, my son,” my mother told me when I was arrested for protesting in the House Gallery at the beginning of the Iraq war. Yes I am! A Patriot! I serve my country with my consciousness and fearlessness in the face of a fearful nation and government intimidation.
I will stand up to Secretary Hagel and this spineless Congress, I decided. I will smile and tell them that they don’t know what they are doing and that I will not be part of their insane wars. Ha! Enlightenment! The Emperor has no clothes! It is my job, my service to this country, my children, in the memory of my father and the brave ones before me to shout it out.
“American intervention IS THE PROBLEM,” I stood up and shouted out. I’m not weak but strong, able to do this duty for God, country and family. “STOP THIS MADNESS”, “NO MORE KILLING IN OUR NAMES”. Proudly, I held up my not-allowed-in Congress sign that said: There is NO MILITARY SOLUTION.
Forward toward freedom, I thought. “Bring our war dollars home”, I shouted. Oops, swish, BOOM. I am dragged out the door of the hearing room by several police. Smash, clink clank. I face into the wall in the hallway immediately outside the House chamber. Cuffs on. A smile on my face. I am my father’s son and a good brother, I thought. This is the “good war.” I am a patriot, serving my country the best that I know how. I smile more, shout more. “We are America, we can use diplomacy, we can lead the way to peace. Hallelujah!”
So wake up America, fear ye not! Blessed are the peacemakers for they can get bullied off the National Mall by Park Police, arrested in Congress for holding signs, carted off in paddywagons. But their voices will never be silenced.
Tighe Barry is the art director for the peace group CODEPINK and a long time peace activist based in Washington DC. See a full video of his action and arrest here.