What will a war protest really accomplish?

(CORRECTION: The song by Dave Martin that was written the night before the rally was one called ‘We Mourn.’ Dave wrote ‘Speak Out Truth to Power’ in March of 2003, the weekend after the US began bombing Iraq.)

On a sunny day in May of 2007, after having been recruited to become a precinct committeeman, I attended an Anti-War Rally for a county protest group, DAWN (DuPage Against War Now) at an outdoor pavilion in Bloomingdale IL. Yesterday I returned to that same pavilion for one more protest against the Afghanistan War. I gave a four-minute talk, which ondelette helped me prepare, on the complexities of Pakistan and Afghanistan and how our government War Hawks want simplistic answers while refusing to learn about the culture, history, and critical needs of the land they want to invade which only leads to death and destruction instead of winning hearts and minds and helping struggling people live better lives.

It also means our military and their families give their bodies and lives to gross arrogance and inhumanity so our political leaders can be reelected and corporate communism can increase its power over the people. In the case of both Iraq and Afghanistan, we didn’t even have a military strategy or exit strategy. Our war lovers now pound our president because he wants to pause and rethink Afghanistan. So, once again the more sane among us gather to protest this gross indecency while the media virtually ignores our pleas.

The local Daily Herald reporter who did cover the event ignored all my words in his brief story even though I gave him a copy of my remarks and instead only used one quote from me in answer to a question that he asked after getting my name, “What will an event like this really accomplish?” I found the answer to that question which was far better than my answer in the words to a song written one day before our protest by local folk musician Dave Martin who debuted it for us:

SPEAK OUT TRUTH TO POWER

Chorus: Speak out truth to power, gather friends around you. Speak out truth to power, don’t let silence seize the day.

I found it in the hearts of other speakers and protesters, especially Kathy Kelly’s who has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s her picture you saw in the Daily Herald link. She co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence, (www.vcnv.org) a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. As a co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, she helped form 70 delegations, from 1996 – 2003, that openly defied economic sanctions by bringing medicines to children and families in Iraq. Kathy and her companions lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing. More recently, she has visited Gaza and Pakistan, writing eyewitness accounts of war’s impact on civilians. She was sentenced to one year in federal prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites (1988-89) and served three months, in 2004, for crossing the line at Fort Benning’s military training school.

She talks about the horrors she has seen with an almost constant, beautiful smile on her face. I had a chance to chat with her on our walk with the flag-draped photo caskets over to Republican congressman Peter Roskams office who we knew on a Sunday, or any other day for that matter, would not welcome our presence. We went to that location because it is on a busy main street and we could listen to the honks for peace. In May of 2007, we did the same thing without caskets and the number of war supporters yelling at us outnumbered the horns we heard. Sunday, the horns were high in numbers and only one car’s occupants yelled “kill” at us.

Kathy smiles because of the friends around her and because she firmly believes peace can be found every time she awakes to a new day. She absolutely refuses to let the War Hawks and idiots get her down. She told me about her recent visit to Gaza and how vicious the Israeli attack was and how desperate the people are still today for meaningful help. When undergoing Shock and Awe in Baghdad, she remembers how confused our Marines were when they watched Iraqi Sunnis raid a building removing weapons until one member of her group decided to tell a Marine what was happening before their eyes and that he might want to stop it.

Another smiling heart that touched me was an immigrant from Pakistan and his ten-year-old son. I never asked his name. I did learn he was an engineer and had returned to Pakistan several times. He kept telling about the extreme corruption that controlled his country with an iron fist. What counted was who you knew, not who you were or how much knowledge and humanity or logic you possessed. Saying the wrong thing to the corrupt police or Army could put in you jail or worse. He said if you knew the “right” people and were entering the country you didn’t need any entry visa or maybe even passport and you could go anywhere you wanted with impunity.

He said that from the time in 1956, when the military took over his country, they had two goals, money and power. The military leaders lived in huge mansions and Musharraf even had mansions outside of Pakistan. Then he praised America because here merit counted more than who you knew. He could work hard and succeed in building a better life for his family. He brought his son to the protest so that he could be among the best of America’s citizens.

We talked about video games and violence and how he insisted his son play games like “Sim World” instead of the vicious killing games. His son then proceeded to do the machine gun killing moves that his father could not keep him from seeing or playing with fellow students. I told him my son believed the only choice for children to understand that this video violence was not real violence but just pretend violence, was to keep explaining the difference. I asked the Pakistani’s son what he thought of “Sim World” and what he learned from it. He said he was tired of that game and wanted his father to buy some new roller coaster game. “It’s like “Sim World,” because you have to decide how to use your money best or you will run out.”

I decided to tell the son in front of the father something that he no doubt intrinsically knew, but no one may have said to him. “You are very lucky because you have this man as your father. Probably also your mother, but I don’t know her. It may take you until later in life to fully realize how lucky you are. Trust me, many people in this world, don’t have a father that is such a fine person as this.” I then shook the father’s hand, thanked him for sharing his thoughts with me and moved on to talk to someone else.

One thing I know for sure, I am so glad I  took my wife’s advice and got off my ass and started doing more than yelling at my TV. I have met so many wonderful people in person and on the Internet that sustain me no matter how overwhelming the challenges. I also am so much better informed than I could ever possibly be on my own.

Dave Martin’s words to his song speak out for why so many of us gather together in person or on the Internet to attempt to bring change to our country, the world and our grandchildren.

Silence can wear you down

Make you feel that you are all alone

But, when we gather our voice together

We can make a sound that will wake the nation (Speak out truth to power)


Those who lust for power at others’ expense

They cannot be sustained, except by violence

But there’s sisters and brothers ’round the nations

Who say there is wealth enough for all creation (Speak out truth to power)


When there’s money for a war, but not for people

And corporate profit’s worshiped like a steeple

Comes a time when you can stay quiet no longer

You know our struggle here – it will make us stronger, If WE (Speak out truth to power)

17 Comments

  1. cocktailhag says:

    Great post, RMP. And the event sounds wonderful. It’s heartening to hear that you got a lot of honks; who knew there were so many America-hating hippies in suburbia? The tide seems to be turning amongst Americans; too bad the politicians and the media haven’t caught on.

  2. dirigo says:

    As Lyndon Johnson once said, in another context, perhaps hyperbolically: “THESE ARE THE STAKES”!

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/10/11/afghanistan___the_proxy_war/

  3. dirigo says:

    Something about a Nobel winner who fulfilled his promise …

    http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/10/hbc-90005893

    • rmp says:

      Both articles were really good. To criticize Obama and the Norwegians because he didn’t “earn” it is really stupid especially when you see way back in 1935 that the Prize is always meant to make a political difference far more than to recognize an individual. The individual is only a means to a greater ends- increasing peace and reducing suffering.

    • Karen M says:

      Thanks for all three of those links, Dirigo! The two op-eds were both great, but the piece about von Ossietzky was my favorite. What an incredible story. Just one more proof of Margaret Mead’s dictum about change being possible only through small groups of dedicated individuals. Or something like that…

  4. rmp says:

    Here’s a story and pix on another Chicago rally that I didn’t attend that was sponsored by Chicago’s ANSWER a coalition to stop war and racism:
    Chicagoans oppose U. S. military presence in Afghanistan
    http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=141553
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsaini/sets/72157622542690814/ (pictures)

  5. retzilian says:

    http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/travel/20hours.html?hpw

    Totally off-topic, but as usual I am the Tour Guide of Cleveland and the NYT did a little spread on Sept 20 that I just found on a friend’s Facebook.

    Here’s a neat little slide show, too:

    http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2009/09/20/travel/200920-cleveland-slide-show_index.html

    And now back to the usual insanity. :)

  6. Thanks, RMP. It’s good to hear stories like this. There is such a thing as solidarity, and it’s forged from exactly this sort of testimony. As I said the other day, perseverance is the key. That, and knowing why you persevere. For that man’s son, and for our own children and grandchildren. The best of reasons….

  7. Karen M says:

    Thanks for this post, RMP. It was a pretty uplifting thing to read, even this late in the day. (I had to go out to a meeting this evening.)

    I have to conclude that one of the few people lacking any vision at that event was the reporter, who could only ask you how effective the protest could be. Guess he needed to read the Horton link that Dirigo supplied. Perhaps you might send it to him… ;~)

  8. Annie says:

    It’s important to learn about the effectiveness of actions, and this really lifts my spirits, RMP.

    To that end, I attended a meeting of the Ethical Society and wondered if anyone has experience with this or the American Ethical Union? It felt so comfortable, and the group I attended is trying to recruit “youngsters” – 40-60 year olds, as well as young families.

    Some of the members realyed how they came to be members, and one person recalled teas with Eleanor Roosevelt and children’s literacy groups while another has been doing the heavy lifting on single payer for years in MA.

    Thanks, RMP, for this post.