I was privileged to attend not one, but two Counter-Inaugural demonstrations this past week. The first, held by The Greater Fall River (MA) Committee for Peace and Justice, was a small candlelight vigil in front of Fall River's Government Center. The second was a much larger gathering in Bridgewater, MA.
Organized by Bill Haff of Citizens for an Informed Community, the demonstration began with a silent vigil on the Bridgewater Town Common. Roughly 50 protesters held candles and signs reading such things as Take Back Democracy, He's Not My President, Killer (above a picture of George W. Bush), Dissent is Patriotic, and my own, You Can't Fight for Democracy Abroad and Deny it at Home. We stood together in the frigid New England night and showed that we would not back down, not now, not ever, so long as war is valued over peace, so long as democracy is failing here at home as the President tries to export it to the rest of the world.
Following the vigil, we gathered in a circle as Mr. Haff read CIC's Statement of Opposition, beginning with, "We feel the inauguration on January 20th is a tragedy, not a cause for celebration. But our protest is not a partisan attack. We call on all Americans - Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Independents - to consider what George W. Bush's return to power means, and to join us in opposition."
At the conclusion of the statement, we marched across the Bridgewater State College campus, singing We Shall Overcome, to a small auditorium where we would hear Loretta Filipov, from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, speak.
With all of our signs as a backdrop, Mrs. Filipov delivered an impassioned speech, calling for peaceful solutions to violence. Her husband, Mr. Al Filipov, was killed at 8:46 a.m. on September 11th, 2001, when his plane, American Airlines flight 11, crashed into the World Trade Center. September 14th would have been their 44th wedding anniversary.
She opened by saying, "You are all amazing people for doing what you did tonight."
Peaceful Tomorrows is a group made up of family members of those lost in the September 11th attacks who are against the war, as they identify with all victims of war and terrorism. The group takes its name from a 1967 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the war in Vietnam when he said, "The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows." Unfortunately, 40 years later, with his words still ringing in our ears, we still have not learned.
Mrs. Filipov introduced us to her beloved husband, telling small anecdotes, such as his ability to say, "Do you like Chinese food?" in 14 different languages. She told us how he had invited her to come along on his trip only a couple of days before he left, and how she had turned him down because he would only be gone for three short days. The morning of September 11th, as he walked to his car to drive to the airport, he gestured to her, and all around them, as if to say, "Look at all we have. Look at all the beauty in the world." She never saw him again.
When she learned that Al had been killed, Loretta immediately thought, "I knew... that I didn't want one other person on this earth to suffer the way I was suffering that day... [that day] he became a civilian casualty [and] I became something different too--a member of a worldwide community, numbering in the millions, whose lives have been torn apart by the effects of man's inhumanity to man."
She was horrified by President Bush's rhetoric following the attacks, when he swore a "crusade" against terrorism. She had no desire for any more innocent human beings to die. Peaceful Tomorrows wants those responsible for 9/11 to be held accountable--including those inside the United States who, though they knew something was coming, did nothing to warn the American people, or to protect them. What they don't want is war. They oppose war, they oppose torture and other human rights violations, they oppose imperialism and the unnecessary curtailing of our civil liberties. They have utmost respect for international law--something our government has sworn to uphold, but circumvents or ignores completely whenever it benefits them.
Mrs. Filipov quoted Dr. King repeatedly throughout her speech. He was a great proponent of finding peaceful solutions to problems of violence, the same thing that Peaceful Tomorrows is fighting for. Dr. King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that really matter." Loretta used this quote to applaud our activism, as well as explain why she was part of Peaceful Tomorrows.
The most profound and honest thing she said all day was this, "Doesn't killing and hate just breed more killing and hate?"
Well, doesn't it, Mr. President? Doesn't it? If an actual victim of September 11th believes the war is the wrong solution, maybe it is time to stop invoking the attacks as a justification for Iraq.
Katherine Brengle is a 23-year-old college student and writer from Massachusetts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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