DAWN Action Reports

Day X - Summary of DAWN action. Essay: Today's Peace Movement: Why Protest in the Streets? - in 4 parts
Published on: Wednesday, March 19, 2003

by Jim Macdonald

On March 19, 2003, DAWN supported an action sponsored by DAWN and the Washington Peace Center at Dupont Circle. The day, known as "Day X" called for mobilized actions once the war began, which was this day. The action had murky endorsement from DAWN, which could not meet in full, and relied on an ad hoc meeting during a DAWN fundraiser at Mimi's that Tuesday night. It was never clear whether the action had been officially endorsed. Even so, DAWN began outreach in earnest for the event, especially when Day X arrived. DAWN fliered at a small rally organized by ANSWER that noon.

The event itself was hastily put together but drew one of DAWN's largest crowds ever for a DAWN event up to that time, drawing between 500-1000 people in intermittent rain and bolstered by a large contingent of labor organizers. The event ended with a non-permitted march that ended at H and 16th Streets. Protesters were not allowed to enter the Park as barricades at Lafayette Park kept people from approaching the White House.

****Below is a series of essays written by Jim Macdonald in the weeks that followed***

Today's Peace Movement: Why Protest in the Streets? Part One

This will be a four part essay. Part One examines the reasons people give for not demonstrating in the streets.

A time comes when silence is betrayal. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy", for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.--from Martin Luther King, delivered to Riverside Church, New York, NY 4/4/67 (note the date) --http://home.attbi.com/~newtondialog/king.html

Over the past week of this war, I have been struck by the fact that so few people are out in the streets speaking out in the United States against the government in its unprovoked war with Iraq. When asking why this is the case, I hear many things. Some people say that each person protests in his or her own way and that not everyone is called to be active in the same way. Others say that the very large anti-war protests before the war did no good; why should we expect them to do any good now? Still others say that they do not feel comfortable being out in the streets with young radicals who do not properly represent the ideals of peace. All of this is undoubtedly true in explaining why so few people are in the streets, but none of these reasons are particularly good enough in this special time of crisis. In these essays, I want to express why I believe the peace movement is something that as many of us as possible should be participating in right now in an as active a way as possible.

In the name of peace, the notion that “silence is betrayal” is not something that people feel very comfortable with. After all, it is not our fault that we are at war, we who are against the war. No one forced our President to put our troops into battle. In fact, we are less to blame because we did not elect this President who put our troops into battle. It seems to be a very sour notion of peace to point the finger of betrayal toward people who have the love of peace in their hearts. Why throw daggers at the very people who sympathize with us? It seems like the cruelest form of cannibalism, one that spends needless energy feasting on people who are not to blame for the condition we find ourselves in. People express peace privately in their own time and in their own way. Isn’t this the way it should be? Why insist on anything more?

Furthermore, even if the notion of a “private peace” could be dispelled, what good can come of anti-war protests now during time of conflict? The government clearly does not listen. It did not listen during the election of 2000 when a plurality of Americans voted for Al Gore, a plurality that probably extended to Florida as well. It did not listen as millions took to the streets in America and the rest of the world in February. It surely is not going to listen now when the nation’s reputation is at stake on the battlefields of Iraq. And, since it is not going to listen, then peace demonstrations right now can only do more harm than good, these people argue, since it demoralizes our troops and causes great divisions in our society. Demonstrating might be a fine gesture before and after war, but it does no good and only harm once war is ongoing. So, it is not “silence that is betrayal,” but speaking to no purpose that is betrayal.

Now while a few others have no problem with the idea of protesting during time of war and have no problem with the idea that people should protest, many worry a great deal about whom they protest with. There is a great worry by some people that the people out demonstrating in the streets do not understand the true meaning of the word “peace.” So, such people avoid all gatherings for fear that their demonstrating will give sanction to ideas about peace that do not represent what they believe. If they see a speaker on a platform that they disagree with or find people using tactics which they believe detract from the movement, they would rather stay home than undermine the entire message of the movement. In a society where the image portrayed by the press is everything, people need to be very cautious and selective about the people they join for mindless rounds of chanting. It is better to stay home and put a candle in the window than to be out with people who are not true believers of the cause.

I have heard all of these arguments numerous times from well-meaning people, but I disagree with all of the following arguments. Each has its own set of flaws.

In my next essay, I will consider argument one, namely that peace is essentially a private matter, and that it is perfectly legitimate for people to express peace privately during time of war. I will argue that the notion of “private peace” is essentially contradictory and that the practice of peacefulness is essentially a public event, although there are undoubtedly infinitely many ways to express peace publicly.

Today's Peace Movement: Why Protest in the Streets? Part Two

This is a four part essay. Part One examines the reasons people give for not demonstrating in the streets. Part Two argues against the belief in a private expression of peace in time of war.

There are many ways to express support for peace, and some argue that it is therefore appropriate that each person expresses peace privately in his or her own time and way. In fact, to some, this quiet sort of worldview is taken to be profoundly more peaceful than loud and noisy demonstrations on its behalf. When the real villains of war are the ones ordering the firing of guns and the dropping of bombs, it seems to be an act of violence to suggest that those who practice peace privately and silently are in fact betraying the cause of peace. In this part of the essay, I will argue that people who believe that the practice of peace is essentially private are mistaken. The support for peace ought to be public, and there does come a point where silence is betrayal.

What is peace? We cannot possibly answer all the particulars of such a grand question. Many lifetimes of talking will only give us more ways to talk about it. However, when I ask the question, what I mean is, “What is the nature of peace such that it will shed light on the question of whether peace is private or public in nature?” With that in mind, I propose that peace is a kind of relation. So, for instance, when I have “peace of mind,” the various aspects of my mind are in harmonious relation with each other. When two people are at peace, this expresses a relation they have toward each other. When two or more countries are at peace, these countries are relating to each other in a certain way. Peace expresses a kind of relation between two or more things, whether that relation is within each of us or whether it expresses a relation we have with each other.

War, therefore, is also a kind of relation. Since war and peace apply to the same sorts of things, war also expresses a relationship within ourselves or between ourselves and other people and things.

While war and peace are relations, they are obviously quite different. While war expresses a kind of relation, the act of war works to sever those relations. When two people are at war, they no longer work together. They work separately in order to promote their own sense of the way things ought to be. So, when Americans fought the Revolutionary War, they severed their relation with Britain in order to promote their independence. In our conflict with Iraq, we severed our ties with the current Iraqi regime in order to promote a new Iraq the way we would have it. We do not work with Iraq to make this happen; we work in isolation from those we war against. Peace, however, is a kind of relation where we commit ourselves to working with our relation. It is a relation that serves to promote the connection that binds us to each other in such a way that it includes everyone in the process. There will be no peace between the Hatfields and the McCoys until they interact with each other.

Therefore, we who believe that peace is better than war believe that working together is profoundly better than working apart.

Clearly, then, the act of peace has a public character to it. Peace by its very nature is the working together of various relations. Even when one is talking about peace of mind, one is talking about the different aspects of himself or herself working together. For instance, I may be hungry. I may also desire to be healthy. When the side desiring hunger and the side desiring health work together, people eat foods which both satisfy their hunger and their desire to be healthy. Peace is always a relation, and it always involves a public interaction.

War, to the contrary, has a decidedly private character. When two people are at war, they set up boundaries between each other. They do not interact; instead, they decide to use force in order promote their own proprietary interests. In fact, the whole notion of modern property rights arose in the 17th Century when philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke postulated that the very state of nature is one of warfare. According to these thinkers, people need property in order to protect themselves from other people, who otherwise would have equal right to it, and who otherwise might harm them and take what they need to survive. The property rights that people so cherish in modern society clearly derive from a belief that we are all naturally at war with each other. Whether that belief about the state of nature is true is of no relevance here, but our modern notion of privacy derives explicitly from a belief that we are at war.

There is something incongruent about the belief that the life of peace is one where people are left alone to live quietly. Since peace is in fact an interactive relation, the idea that we are at peace when we are left alone is a very curious one. In fact, it is not peaceful at all because “being left alone” suggests that ties have been severed. Are we at peace with ourselves when one part of us is doing its own thing? Perhaps, it can seem that way at times. A person can smoke for years without having any harm to his or her health; however, at some point, ignoring our own desire for health is extremely detrimental. In essence, doing our own thing is a more subtle kind of warfare. Since we are not working with each other, all of our actions only produce “peace and quiet” only accidentally. When I walk down a street blindfolded, a car might not hit me for a very long time. Yet, it is not because I was blindfolded that I have been so lucky. Likewise, when I think of peace as simply a matter of everyone minding their own business, I might luckily live a life without any harm. However, it won’t be because I chose to live a life of peace. Rather, it will be a fortunate accident of the world we happen to live in. In truth, our silent and quiet lives are one of warfare, where our relationship with each other is severed.

Therefore, peace is not nor can ever be a private sort of thing. And, anyone who wishes to support peace must at the same time be committed to a public activity. We cannot privately and from afar wish for peace in Iraq. We cannot simply say that the people who are actively committing war on the people of Iraq are the only ones who are at war. Those of us who choose to be alone, who choose to practice peace in private, are also at war with Iraq. We may be deceived into thinking that the quiet in our heart is the true spirit of peace, but we have confused our peace of mind with peace in Iraq. To promote peace in Iraq, one must be willing to engage other people who desire us to work with the Iraqi regime and people. When one fails to do this, one is choosing to go it alone, to sever the tie that binds us together, to engage in the very essence of warfare.

Of course, there may be many diverse ways to work for peace; however, it is a contradiction to say that we can work for peace in our own time and in our own way. The practice of peace does not derive from what we own. The word “own” is the word that is at issue here. Ownership rights over how we express peace are inconsistent with the very nature of peace. We do not work for peace in our “own” time and in our “own” way but only when we work with others interactively. We must depend upon others just as they depend upon us. That is, we must congregate, we must join together, and we must decide together how to promote peace. If we love peace, we truly believe that the question is not simply a personal decision. That is the language of war.

When Martin Luther King Jr. said that silence is betrayal, he was right. I hope I have expressed why he was right. There is no such thing as a private peace, especially when the peace we are talking about deals with other people. And, even where one has a personal kind of peace, it only exists in so far as different parts within a person are working together.

In my next essay, I will address the concerns of those who say that we do more harm than good in speaking out during time of war, especially when no one in our government is going to listen to us. I will argue that it does not do more harm than good, even if numbers remain small, since there are other more profound purposes of demonstrating for peace than beating a head against a brick wall.

Today's Peace Movement: Why Protest in the Streets? Part Three

This is a four part essay. Part One examines the reasons people give for not demonstrating in the streets. Part Two argues against the belief in a private expression of peace in time of war. Part Three argues that even during time of war, it is not more harmful to be demonstrating, even if there is little or no hope in persuading the government to change its policy.

On February 15, I was with more than half a million other people in New York and millions throughout the world, but soon after the large and unprecedented demonstration against war, President Bush insulted peace activists by calling them a focus group. Unfazed, he continued his policy, and we now find ourselves at war. The demonstrations may have helped to shatter the coalition of nations, but it did not stop the war. In our country, they did not change the hearts and minds of the people who are now executing it. Now that we are at war, it does not seem likely that demonstrations are going to change those minds. Thus, some believe that the battle has been lost, and the reality of the situation is that there are troops in Iraq who are putting their lives on the line. Some people who do not believe in the principle behind this war nevertheless believe that we are endangering the lives of troops by continuing to demonstrate. While demonstrations may not change policy, some argue that they hurt morale and divide the country against itself. Thus, while silence may be betrayal, speaking out to no purpose is also betrayal. In this essay, I will argue that while speaking to no purpose is very harmful, speech on behalf of peace no more divides us than not speaking at all. Furthermore, there is a much more important purpose to speaking out in public that makes it imperative that we speak publicly against this war.

The first point that ought to be clear is that we should only warily accept the view that demonstrations will not change policy. Like any claim that attempts to predict what free beings will do, it is a tentative claim at best. In all probability, the Bush Administration will not be swayed to end their war. In all probability, tens of millions of Americans will not flood into the streets demanding that this war stop. Nevertheless, these remain only probabilities. Certainly, if only ten percent of the DC/Baltimore metro area walked out of work and joined in a central location to demonstrate, half a million people would be outside demonstrating. I have a sense that that might shake our war policy. There is a great untapped human potential for bringing about radical change, and it is not clear to me that many people have understood that there are obvious ways that demonstrating can make a difference in policy. However, until enough people can convince enough others to change their routine and believe that their actions can directly make a difference, we should expect the status quo. So, for the purposes of this essay, I will warily accept the view that demonstrations will not change policy and instead assume that that claim is true.

Nothing good comes from speaking to rocks because they do not talk back, and one should not waste time speaking to rocks unless they have some other purpose in mind by making the noise. Since peace is essentially interactive, those working for peace must at least have the potential for interacting with whomever they are speaking. Where that dialogue cannot exist, there is no point in all the talk. In fact, it is worse that that. Humans are finite beings limited in what they can do with their time. If I spend all my time talking to rocks, I have wasted time that I could have spent talking to someone who might benefit from my speech. It is certainly the greatest vanity to believe that anytime someone chooses to exercise their free speech that they are therefore doing something worthwhile and good. Not all speech is good speech; not all noise joyful. Speaking to rocks will not change the hearts and minds of anybody, but it can potentially do a lot of harm.

While speaking to rocks might be harmful, it is not harmful to the rocks themselves. Human beings are not rocks, of course, and so one might argue that speaking to a human being who is not going to change his or her mind is potentially harmful. Humans have feelings, are easily discouraged, and can need constant motivation in order to do their jobs as well as possible. Perhaps, because the reasoning behind the demonstrating is not heard, the clang of the noise creates peril for people who need positive reinforcement. That may be, but it is nevertheless not as simple as that. It might be as simple as that if the only people who mattered were our own troops. However, the situation is in fact a lot more complicated. There is an entire world listening and being affected by the demonstrations. There are Iraqi soldiers, too. There are civilians in Iraq. There are demonstrators in Europe who are more successfully lobbying their own governments, or at the very least, have a higher probability of success. In fact, the same speech that discourages some is the same speech that encourages others. So, at the very least, the demonstrator is faced with an impossible choice. Does he or she refrain from speaking and possibly discourage others just to contribute to the encouragement of some?

When faced with such a choice, the only option is to speak since what one is speaking is right. While some may not listen and may be discouraged by that speech, others will listen and be encouraged. It is far better that good speech be heard by those willing to listen than that same speech be silenced for discouraging the few who refuse to listen.

Since there are those who are willing to listen and be encouraged by peace demonstrations, it suggests that the audience of any demonstration goes well beyond the government. The underlying assumption of many people is that the only purpose of demonstration is for changing the policy of the government. When the government refuses to listen, many people become so discouraged that they fail to see the point. However, there are other important reasons to demonstrate for peace.

Peace is essentially an affirmation of interactive dialogue, and when there is no interactive dialogue, we revert back to a state of war. That war extends far beyond Iraq. It extends into our everyday human relations into the very things that have made us feel separated. Many people believe that they are the only ones who love peace, who believe that they are isolated in their beliefs. An open forum for peace lovers to come together may not speak to the government, but it has a profound effect on the people who actually demonstrate. Often the participants of peace demonstrations are the most profoundly affected for the better by their demonstration. Because they meet others who love peace, they form networks and connections that strengthen each other’s resolve to work together. Peace is born not simply when governments sign treaties but when people who were once strangers become friends. These interactions would never happen if people did not come out and congregate.

Rather than fewer demonstrations during time of war, there should be more peace demonstrations. While our government may not listen, too many others are. So many people are being encouraged by the message of peace, and so many others are practicing it simply by attending and interacting with others. The most profound value of the peace movement is found in these interactions. Therefore, we should have as many of them as possible. We should foster an entire culture of interaction. In fact, we must. As Dr. King said, we must speak. We must, however hard it is for us, to speak “for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy’,” and most importantly, we must speak with each other.

In the final essay, I will consider the argument of those who avoid protesting because they do not believe that those who are out protesting against the war have the best interests of peace at heart. I will argue that peace requires us to interact with everyone who is willing, even and especially those we think are not true believers.

Today's Peace Movement: Why Protest in the Streets? Part Four

This is a four part essay. Part One examines the reasons people give for not demonstrating in the streets. Part Two argues against the belief in a private expression of peace in time of war. Part Three argues that even during time of war, it is not more harmful to be demonstrating, even if there is little or no hope in persuading the government to change its policy. Part Four argues that we must be willing to protest with people, even if they seem to us not to have the best interests of peace at heart.

Across the country, protesters are snarling rush hour traffic. Reports have given evidence of people switching their support from peace to war because of the tactics of demonstrators. New polls suggest that only one-quarter of Americans have a positive opinion of peace demonstrators, whatever their attitudes about the war itself. Many people stay home from protests not so much out of fear of arrest but out of disgust for fellow protesters. Some disapprove of the loud chanting. Others disapprove of the banging on drums, and still others object to the music. More serious objections concern the agenda of some of the protesters. Are some of them anti-Semitic? Are some of them anarchists? Are some less interested in world peace than they are in bringing down the World Bank? Are some just there because they are malcontents looking for any reason to cause trouble? Even if the truth in the streets is far different than this caricature of the peace movement, doesn’t it hurt the peace movement more for us to protest with people who may not have peace emblazoned into their hearts? In this essay, I argue that peace requires us to congregate with people who do not measure up in every respect to the ideals of peace and that the notion of a pure community of the peaceful is neither peaceful nor pure.

Before going into the heart of the essay, let me clarify who I am talking about. For instance, President Bush claims to be acting in the name of peace by going to war in Iraq. No one in the peace movement considers President Bush’s act of war an act of peace. Yet, how is it that we determine the groups who are really acting for peace from the groups who are not? What are the boundaries? That goes beyond the scope of the essay, although the question is very important. In light of its importance, let me clarify those boundaries slightly. When I argue that people should congregate and demonstrate with people who do not measure up to the ideals of peace, I have in mind people who are still to some extent working toward real peace although they may do things which may not seem consistent the highest measure of peaceful action. Certainly, most of us can recognize a distinction between people who are acting for peace in name only and those who are genuinely doing their best. Where those boundaries lie in every particular I leave for further discussion, but in broad lines, I think we all know what they are.

However, even though I have a sort of middle group in mind—those who are truly working for peace but are not necessarily always acting in its best interest—peace demands something more radical of us. Since peace is essentially interactive and is committed to strengthening the ties that relate us to each other, ultimately it makes no difference at all whether someone is working for peace or working against peace. We are required in all cases, if we are working for peace, to work on interaction. Nevertheless, the cases are not the same in one respect. Whereas we may be required to work on interaction with a war advocate, it does not therefore follow that we can speak with one voice with the same people who are working to advance war. Just because I might interact with George W. Bush one day does not therefore mean that I will join his voice in the cause for war.

However, if it is true that I cannot speak with one voice with a war advocate, why am I required to speak with one voice with those whose tactics and beliefs seem to fall short of the full measure of peace?

The question suggests a conceptual confusion, namely that every tactic and belief is as equally substantial to the question of peace. We may disagree whether people should lie in the streets or simply stand on the sidewalk, and whether they should be singing Bob Dylan or something more traditional. We may disagree with someone’s assessment of the reasons why war happens. We may loathe certain styles of dress. We may not agree on what is to blame for war. All of these differences are important at some level, but they are not important to the fundamental question of war and peace. The central question in this particular conflict is whether people do or do not oppose war in Iraq. This is the only question of substance. Every other consideration is not substantial. They are real differences between people to be sure and may be substantial at some other level, but they have no ultimate bearing on the central question. However one feels about a particular act of civil disobedience, whichever way you look at it, that difference has no bearing on the question of war itself. Thus, not every difference between people is substantially important to the question of war and peace.

The question that remains is whether we can justify going our separate ways in light of these differences. Can we have a peace movement that has many different groups all doing their own thing? As should be clear from the previous essays, segregation is not consistent with peace. The very idea that we can have separate enclaves of peace is itself contradictory to the very interactive nature of peace. Separation is the very essence of warfare. Dr. King suggested the same thing when he argued in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail that separation is the very essence of evil. In terms of civil rights, the problem with “separate but equal” was not so much the idea that people who are separate could not be equal but rather that separation itself was the problem. When people have unsubstantial differences over peace, a dedication to peace requires that these groups come together and interact, speaking for peace in a single voice. It may not be that that single voice says the same thing. Some of the things that our one voice says may be inconsistent. However, those inconsistencies do not exist at the level where it counts, whether one is working on behalf of peace or on behalf of war. Not every inconsistency is relevant to the question that matters.

The desire of some to have a pure peace movement is neither pure nor peaceful. Anyone who wishes to have a movement for peace, only congregating and speaking with people who are in perfect tune with our own particular vision of peace is setting up unnecessary barriers that the concept of peace does not require. Peace does not require dogma; it requires that people work together. Anything that works toward setting up boundaries between people works against the very spirit of peace. Thus, since the very desire for this kind of pure peace actually works to create war between people, it is neither especially pure nor peaceful. Peace requires us to interact with each other, who are all in some way different and none of us purely identical. The lover of peace must therefore make every effort to speak with one voice with other lovers of peace, especially those who are most different from us. It is especially true because the more stark the difference, the more effort it requires.

In these four essays, I considered three reasons people have offered for why more people are not out on the streets protesting against this war. We have seen that all of the reasons that I have considered here are intrinsically flawed. Peace is not simply a private affair; it is an interactive relation. Furthermore, we must work for peace even when our government does not listen since peace extends well beyond the wars waged between governments and into the community of peace itself. Finally, it requires of us that we interact and speak with those who do and believe things differently from us, so long as those differences are not substantial to the question of peace. In every case, it is much better for us to protest right now with people than it is for us to do nothing at all. It may not necessarily require that we go literally into the streets, but it does require something more than these three excuses that so many have used to stay at home. Peace also requires that we practice it publicly, especially during this difficult time and especially with those we may not otherwise like.

Jim Macdonald