Between the motorcycle energy and the huge pro-war military presence, it is difficult to stay centered & feeling ‘safe’ today. Especially after the white male snatched the list of dead soldiers’ names from Judy's hands.
We are under the mulberry tree, deciding we need really to be the voice for peace today. All around us, the voice for war is thundering in unison with unmufflered harleys. The tree sits just west of the largest phallic building in D.C., on a slight rise overlooking the paths to other war memorials – paths traversed by many, even in this high heat & humidity.
We stand under the tree, lining the edge of the rise, holding the faces of war, ‘peace please’, and ‘not one more death in Iraq’ posters. Charlotte begins to read each name of the dead in an amazingly powerful cadence, emphasizing each syllable of each name; Toby beats the drum at the conclusion of each name, completing the rhythm.
Two of the Long Islanders have rushed off to catch their bus; three others remain behind to be our voice for peace. We range from 18 to 77 years old. We are all shaken – some questioning what we did wrong, did our banner provoke violence, maybe our pictures were too offensive.
I say we are not responsible for other people’s reactions: everyone is free to respond in his or her own way. Hopefully most people are committed to non-violence, to respecting free speech, to rationally expressing themselves… in a perfect world.
We focus on our truth, what we need & want to say; and not what other folks want us to say, nor the way they want us to say it. Everyone is also determined: determined to be the voice of peace; determined to stand our ground, the soil of non-violence, the dirt of truth, the grass of life.
We begin again. The first person that responds, a brown-skinned middle-aged man w/a heavy accent, climbs up the hill & vigorously takes each of our hands in both of his, murmuring his deep thanks.
The next man, a huge older white fellow with lots of hair, hikes up his suspenders as he flashes the peace sign. We all breathe a sigh of relief. He circles back around after he passes us to climb the hill & tell us how glad he is to see us, how much he appreciates our work, and then he talks about the horrors of war.
We begin to count the responses of all the people who pass & who are responding. We’ve run out of fingers & toes before we run out of positive responses. Again, we have learned to focus on the majority – even though those few who respond negatively do so very violently. We cannot allow the bellowing voice of a few overwhelm the soft voice of the many.
An older white woman, loose beige clothes billowing slightly in the heat & moisture-laden breeze as she climbs the steepest part of the hill to where I'm standing, demands to know if we’re with the group that was in front of the white house showing these ‘obscene photos’ – she waves in the general direction of "our real faces of war" (we have the most benign ones today: the u.s. soldier burying his head into the body of the child he has clutched to his chest wrapped in a blanket seeping the child’s blood; and a father standing with his arms thrown around his/someone’s son as their tears run with random blood & dirt).
“They’re pornographic” she shouts. I reassure her in my most firm understanding voice that none of our photos are either obscene (the way she means it – obscene to me/us because they are real) or pornographic – but they are horrific & tragic, real faces of war, I add. As she goes on to scream about those awful photos she saw, I realize she is speaking of the anti-nuclear war people & the pictures they have depicting the real consequences of nuclear war. I have not looked closely at their pictures yet I can see them too clearly in my head as she describes them.
She calms a little as I speak softly, at least a lot softer than her, & I agree with her that the photos are horrific. She is not just worried about children see the photos but visitors to our White House & what kind of an impression these pictures make on foreigners. I again say to her how horrific these photos are & then I make sure I have captured her eyes & her attention when I say ‘and it is even more horrific that we have actually done these things to our fellow human beings’.
Slowly, she cannot do anything but nod in shameful agreement with me. I invite her to join us, to prevent any more of these pictures, to end this war in Iraq. She tells me she agrees we are so privileged we just have to see the pictures not be the pictures. She tells me she’s on our side & will work for peace – just not today. But maybe she already has taken that step when she climbed up the hill.