Ten years ago I arose at 5:30 am in my small town of Arlington, Massachusetts to be out the door of my house to get to our town center where, as bus captain, I was meeting our 7 a.m. bus to New York City.
We were going to protest the coming war on Iraq. It turned out to be the largest series of protests ever to take place on the same day, on the same issue. Around the world, in nation after nation and in every capital city, people gathered in the protests known as “The World Says No to War.”
In New York, Richie Havens took to the stage with his Woodstock classic “Freedom.” Bishop Desmond Tutu spoke, Peter Seeger sang “Over the Rainbow” and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee spoke of no longer greeting people’s needs with a closed fist, but an open hand.
It was a freezing cold day, we New Englanders were dressed in our many layers. We were literally praying that the leaders would heed our people’s wisdom, which as we know ten years later, they did not.
Estimates vary, but it looks like over a million Iraqis were killed during the U.S. invasion and occupation. Weapons of mass destruction – the purported excuse for war – never materialized, even when former President Bush hunted for them under his desk. The people who came out ten years ago went home, exhilarated at first at what they had participated in, but the exhilaration did not last when shock and awe began.
Instead of sustained and escalating action for peace, the masses of people went home and acquiesced.
My small peace group in a small New England town did not quit. Instead, we have engaged in a protracted struggle to hold the ground open for dissent and to seize every opportunity to confront our community with the issue of unsustainable militarism, that is an illness deeply buried in the very marrow of our nation.
We continue to vigil as the wars wind down, but the drone attacks ramp up. We have not yielded one inch in our condemnation and repudiation of the destructive war policies that bankrupt our nation, morally and financially. We know we are not alone. Peaceniks around the country stand in village squares in a refusal to allow the disappearance of our constitutional rights and the departures from our laws to pass unremarked, even if we cannot bring about crucial changes, because our numbers are too small. Today, the burden of standing out for peace lays lightly across our shoulders, we are not afraid. The tide turned some time ago, we are no longer cursed but get the thumbs up as people motor by.
Last spring we gathered hundreds of signatures to put a question on the November 2012 ballot across Massachusetts. Called Budget for All, http://budget4allmass.org, it asked people to vote on redirecting military spending to prevent cuts in Medicare or Social Security, to create jobs by investing in schools, housing, renewable energy. Budget For All won in all 91 cities and towns where it was on the ballot.
Meanwhile, we know the bridges that must be built, across the divides and difficulties that humanity faces, of rich and poor, of men and women, between nations and generations, between people and planet Earth. These are the great tasks that face us at this critical time in human history. Building these bridges is taking the exalted path to the future, and we urge everyone to take this path, for love of life. This is the greatest lesson we have learned as we recall the outpouring of energy and effort that we participated in ten years ago.