Demanding Peace Versus Praying For It: I WANT TO SCREAM
by Kirsten Anderberg
May 11, 2004

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Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the privileged will NOT just hand over their privilege when asked. He said that privilege would have to be TAKEN out of the hands of the elite, he said they would not GIVE it over. And this has been true more often than not in human history. It is the RULE that the oppressed do not get their rights by ASKING POLITELY and then WAITING QUIETLY for them. I saw an anarchist zine recently entitled, "Peace is patriotic, that is the problem." It struck me as truth. All these "peaceful" middle-class, white, car and home-owning “activists” who are nicely asking the Bush administration to please, maybe, stop the war, someday soon, are a problem. Their pose is one of an activist, yet the government is benefiting from them more than peace activists are. Dr. King’s “peaceful” tactics were severely challenged by direct action black nationalists. King himself admitted he did not realize the severity of conditions in the inner city that were leading to the anger, hostility and violence, and you can see King’s language change as people aggressively pushed not only for equal rights, but for Black Power and Black Nationalism which, yes, made King uncomfortable, but he was radicalized by their rage as was the whole country, as they had a just message that rang true. You starve people long enough and they organize their own resistance, with or without self-proclaimed “peaceful” leaders. MLK himself said, “We have a right to FIGHT for right.” What “peaceful” and “fight” mean in these contexts needs exploration, not exploitation. We cannot afford to play semantics anymore.

This morning I received an announcement for a “peace vigil” in Seattle this coming week. The wording was so paternalistic, so bizarre, it turned me off completely. It said:

“Peaceful citizens please announce, please come! To our peaceful rally…End the occupation of Iraq, A silent peaceful rally, a prayer for peace, a time to come together. We invite all peaceful Americans; their Families and Children, Churches and Synagogues, congregations of all religions in the Puget Sound Are to rally…Please Come Early, Come in Peace…WHO: All the Muslims in Western Washington (from Bellingham to Olympia), WHAT: Stand-up for the injustice in IRAQ, WHY: Enough is enough, END THE OCCUPATION, All Positive Banners and Posters are WELCOME, Now is the time for a peaceful rally; not to shout! not to scream! But to hold posters and banners as peaceful Americans who desire change with powerful positive messages and persuasive pictures (perhaps enlarged). Let us help to open the minds of our fellow citizens to see the truth! If we come for peace, if we are peaceful, people will listen, and if they listen…Please voice your support and spread the word. We have the right to freely assemble and make our voices heard.”

This overuse of “peace” is interesting. Webster’s dictionary defines “peace” as “freedom from civil disturbance,” “a state of security or order within a community provided for by law or custom…” among the obvious “tranquil” definitions. “Peaceful” is defined as “untroubled by conflict, agitation or commotion,” and “devoid of violence or force,” among other definitions. And “peaceable” is defined as “quietly behaved” as well as “not contentious or quarrelsome.”

There is a conflict going on in America, on many fronts. The American government is alienating large segments of its own population just as it did during the Vietnam War. America is stumbling in stupidity in this Iraq War, in front of the world, just like it did in Vietnam, and people are loudly and aggressively announcing these foibles, sick and tired of this circus Bush has created. For the first time so far, I do NOT believe Bush has a chance in hell of winning a reelection in November. And he already played the wild card of his brother in Florida saving him with suspicious voting tactics, people are onto that one now, so my belief is Bush Jr. will be a one term president JUST LIKE HIS DADDY. And for the same reasons too! America cannot afford the Bush family. They cost Americans too much in lost lives via their non-ending oil wars, lost jobs as they massacre our economy, and lost dignity as they make America the laughing stock of the world with their hideous foreign policies. And Georgie wants his job as president badly, enough to create unprecedented “no protest zones” EVERYWHERE he goes, because he is THAT hated! And he KNOWS IT! Bush has had to deploy RIOT POLICE onto American streets to shred the Constitution, willingly, to protect his throne, unchallenged by protesters that he would have to actually see if not for his protected “zone.” I assume he finds out about the protesters on the news just like he finds out about American military abuses of Iraqi prisoners!

But there is a conflict going on within the activism/protest community itself. Many are sick of nicely asking Mr. Bush to please stop doing all these horrific things, like cutting veteran benefits while increasing perks to the rich, and investing endless dollars into a war that was gotten by what sure seems to be ill means and lying, and smells like a war for oil, just like his daddy’s Kuwait War. The American military went into Iraq to “free it,” and allowed rampant destruction of Iraq’s hospitals, libraries, and museums, but were on top of the oil wells throughout. THAT says all I need to know about the Bush regime’s priorities in Iraq. Many are tired of being told to just sit down and silently PRAY by “peace” activists. Many are sick of the use of “religion” to give “credibility” to anti-war activists, when many of these religions are little mini-oppressive governments in themselves, full of race, gender and class hatred. I am sick of the middle class pretending they are lending some form of legitimacy to the anti-war movement by their mere presence, by standing silently with signs and telling all activists they must do the same or be shamed, when in all actuality, in many ways, those placid “protesters” are keeping this war going by their complacent forms of “protest.” Not until people were aggressive did the Vietnam War stop. Not until the Black Panthers organized did America take the Black Nationalist movement seriously. Not until people were willing to DIE for their civil rights did America finally let non-white children into public schools without aiming water hoses and police dogs on them. Not until pictures of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American soldiers were broadcast on TV were those issues of serious import, or so it seems, listening to Rumsfeld’s excuses of why the abuses resulted in no immediate action, and why no one has been prosecuted for murder with the speed of, oh, a black man killing a cop. “Peaceful” protesters, praying for peace, being silent for peace, waiting for peace, asking for peace, for a few hours, then going home in their SUV’s to their suburban homes...this is just what the government wants. People not willing to risk a thing for peace, but a few hours of silent prayer, are of no danger to Bush and his wars.

Bob Dylan's immortal song, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," a song many of these “polite” peace activists know by heart, says, “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly agin', please get out of the new one, if you can't lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin'.” Yes, I understand the need for peaceful vigils, but I also understand the need for DIRECT ACTION. NOW. People are dyin’ here, there is no time if it is your son who comes home tomorrow dead in this war. And my son is draft age. So I find it very rude that polite activists are telling me how I may protest this war, and are trying to dictate ownership of public street protests through dictated behaviors, when it is MY SON, MY COUNTRY, MY WORLD TOO, and I HAVE A RIGHT TO AT LEAST FIGHT THIS MADNESS IN WHATEVER WAY THE CONSTITUTION STILL DEEMS LEGAL, and that includes more than just standing with a sign silently asking for peace near a bunch of Christians. Imagine if the original Americans had stood around with signs asking the English for liberation, just think! We could have averted the entire American Revolutionary War! And the Vietnam War was not ended by silent, non-confrontational polite requests either. I also find it amusing that many of these polite activists promote tax resister status as “peaceful” activity, yet it is pretty aggressive really. But the funniest part to me is how class privileged tax resisters are. As my street performing peer Steve Clark says in his tax resister song, “I don’t make enough to not pay taxes!” Many Americans are not making enough money to be able to even utilize tax resistance as any form of protest! As I said, protest is definitely splitting down class lines. Or, those with the most “property ownership” to lose are the most complacent anti-war protesters, or are the ones “blocking the halls” as Dylan describes them.

This ad for “their” “peaceful” rally by “peaceful” citizens, and references to male-dominated, patriarchal, monotheistic religions as the driving forces of conscience, is troubling to me. The statement tells you NOT to shout, NOT to scream, telling us to just silently hold signs, well, how much more could Tom Ridge ask for? I want to SCREAM when I see what America is doing in the Middle East, and in America, too, and no male-god-believin’, middle class, “peaceable” person is going to convince me that legally aggressive protest and direct action is not required to STOP THIS WAR NOW. The Constitution does not say “ONLY POLITE RELIGIOUS PROTESTERS have the right to assemble and protest…” Protest, by its very definition, is oppositional and confrontational. I think this is truly turning into a class chasm. The “peaceful” protesters are “well-behaved,” and they are also “free from civil disturbance.” It seems via this overuse of the word “peace” that the organizers are trying to dictate who does what where, and coming from the churches, this is not surprising, which is why I am not following church organizations into any battle, even one for peace. Church dictatorship is not freedom whether it is in government or in the “peace” movement.

Imagine that rally ad turned inside out: “FORCEFUL CITIZENS PLEASE ANNOUNCE, PLEASE COME! TO OUR AGGRESSIVE RALLY…END THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ, A loud rally, An ACTION for peace, A time to come together, We invite all forceful and committed people; their Families and Children, Teens, Covens, Labor Unions, Affinity Groups, & Cooperatives in the Puget Sound Area to rally…to END THE OCCUPATION OF IRAQ. Please Come Early, Come in Opposition, WHO: Any and all, WHAT: FIGHT against the injustice in IRAQ WHY: Enough is enough, END THE OCCUPATION NOW. All Banners and Posters are WELCOME. NOW IS THE TIME FOR AN AGGRESSIVE RALLY; TIME TO SHOUT! TIME TO SCREAM! Use powerful NEGATIVE WAR messages and persuasive pictures (perhaps enlarged). LET US HELP TO OPEN THE MINDS OF OUR FELLOW CITIZENS TO SEE THE TRUTH! IF WE DEMAND PEACE, IF WE ARE FORCEFUL, IF WE DO NOT TOLERATE THIS WAR, PEOPLE WILL LISTEN. Please USE YOUR VOICE and spread the word. We have the right to freely assemble and make our voices HEARD.”

I would attend the protest this advertises. But the semantically paternalistic message from people following Male-Gods telling people not to speak, to have their voice heard for peace, is not enticing to me at all. It is oppressive. It is actually counter-productive. The “peace” community is going to have to also come to peace with those it claims to be representing at some point. And everyone I know is sick of “peace police” telling everyone to shut up, to be quiet and restrained, to be silent little lambs, to be like church followers, allowing these self-appointed leaders and spokespersons speaking on our behalf. This breaking away of allegiance within revolutions is commonplace in history. The women who fought for the women’s vote in the early 1900’s splintered in all directions. Many conservative Christian “feminists” did not like Alice Paul’s direct action of picketing the White House for the Women’s Vote. They begged her to stop, and she refused. MLK, also a Christian reverend, argued vehemently with activists such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. This idea of Christians within a group trying to usurp power, while also attempting to neutralize direct protest activity, knowingly or not, is common. It is also a common ploy of the secret service to plant people in movements to suggest such complacency for those who will buy into it. Politics and Religion have been strange bedfellows and I do not trust either, alone or together. Freud’s analysis of religion as an infantile neurosis and Marx saying that religion is the opiate of the people, both ring true to me. I do not need any male-godhead religion telling me how to act ANYWHERE.

When I was 4 years old, I learned a song I will never forget. Pete Seeger talked about protests for civil rights led by Dr. MLK, and he said that King told the people to march silently, to not respond to shouts at them, to not engage in any speech at all, UNTIL THE ARRESTS BEGAN. Then Seeger goes on to teach a new song for such an occasion, and this is the sequence of events he recounts: People are protesting in a march in the South, “solemn as deacons, quiet as mice,” and then along come the police and they say, “You are all under arrest.” And at that one moment, everyone begins dancing and singing, loud and proud, “I ain’t a-scared of your jail, ‘cause I want my freedom, want my freedom, want my freedom, I ain’t a-scared of your jail, ‘cause I want my freedom, I want my freedom, NOW.” Until polite protesters are not afraid of jail, OR until THEIR freedoms are compromised, their protests remain nearly counterproductive, just desensitizing citizens to protesters, watering down the word “protest” and making police happy, while alienating actual anti-war allies.

Kirsten Anderberg is a Seattle based writer and activist. Read more of Kirsten's articles at: www.angelfire.com/la3/kirstenanderberg. She can be reached at:  sheelanagig@juno.com.

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