Notes from Charlottesville

This Sunday’s New York Times front page gives a sad glimpse of the terror and despair that is rising in the United States. A father deported to Mexico, and a mother who has decided to leave her home here and bring her son with her to Mexico, where they can be reunited and live without fear. An anti-racist/pro-equality protestor killed by a weaponized car, in the aftermath of a KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is the tone of “justice” promoted by the “Make America Great Again” White House. Without direct intervention from people in decision-making positions–and from the grassroots mobilizations below– these events shift our mindset toward crisis, fear, and survival, rather than toward any larger, collective goals.

As a counterbalance to the despair, I want to share this post by Quaker peace activist/journalist/publisher Helena Cobban, director of Just World Educational and Just World Books.

Charlottesville confronting white supremacy and hate

Ceremony for Hiroshima–and a plaintive cry for peace

Me posing with David Swanson, who holds a yellow paper crane after his moving speech at the ceremony.

On August 6, 2017 I attended a beautiful event to remember the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki held at the Peace Garden near Lake Harriet, Minneapolis. Featured speaker David Swanson–author of many books against war including WAR IS A LIE (Just World Books)–offered his well researched thinking to us and to “the hundreds of thousands of ghosts” left from the bombing.

Among the many other heartfelt contributions to this event: a story about Sadako, the girl who made a thousand paper cranes for peace, before she died of leukemia as a result of exposure to radiation from the bomb. Then three schoolgirls from Nagasaki who sang a song of love and peace in Japanese.

We then held a moment of silence at 8:15 am–the time the U.S. dropped the first bomb on Hiroshima…three days later another was deposited onto Nagasaki…entire cities the size of Chicago and Los Angeles were nearly wiped out–and Japan was brought to its knees, ending that World War, but not the idea or possibility of another one. But before the silence the Veterans for Peace held their handmade bells and gave us eleven rings, to commemorate November 11 (traditionally Veterans Day but here, a reference to Armistice Day).

What really sticks with me from this morning’s event is the plaintive tone of a song, offered by two women (both graduates of Macalester College). “This is our cry, this is our prayer, peace in the world, this is our cry.”

This gentle song represents a small but crucial voice. If we do not devote our lives to bringing peace, we may all be destroyed by war.

Speaking about peace

I was very fortunate to be able to share my thoughts about intergenerational and intercultural learning on the Vietnam War at the Democracy Convention held this week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In a session with Prof. Amy Finnegan from Peace and Justice Studies at the University of St. Thomas, I spoke about the possibilities and challenges of dialogues about that War. Talking together with people who are older or younger than you pushes you to drop your age prejudices, whichever direction they may apply. I’ve heard so many older activists say “where are the young people” as if those young people are not doing anything worth our attention. I’ve heard young people show amazement at the idealism, energy, persistence of their elders, as if they expected old people to be conservative, burned out, and defeated. I also mentioned the prejudices peace activists sometimes express about Cold War refugees and immigrants, as if they must all be “hard-core anticommunists” devotees of militarism and colonial domination. Conversely, I know second-generation refugees who dread encounters with peace activists, whom they expect will exotify and otherize them. It’s a minefield of emotional wounds and fears–what else would we expect of war, antiwar movements, and the aftermath?

The conference provided an amazing opportunity to plug back into the currents of grassroots political movements. It was inspiring to see the continued efforts of U.S. peace activists to educate themselves and others.

It was also an opportunity for me to plug myself as a “peace educator.” When the peace movement is weakened by class, gender, and race bias, it is exciting to have a chance to offer a new view.

Throughout the conference, the work of many younger people of color and working class was often referenced and sometimes featured, including queer and trans activists, the Million Artist Movement, Standing Rock, and of course, Black Lives Matter. Although those gestures at solidarity were sometimes lacking skill or commitment, the fact is that we are all aware of the need to work together to confront multidimensional world crises. In time, with work–and with humility, wisdom, and kindness–we will build another world.