raised the idea of turning the September 24 anti-war march in
Washington into a sit-down, I feel obliged to report on what happened
last weekend and ask what more will we do?
I wrote on that idea a couple of days before the demonstration
("Will We Use the Power We Have on September 24th?")
generated several email replies. All but one were supportive,
generally along the lines that "the horrors we are perpetrating
in Iraq call for the strongest non-violent response possible."
Keeping in mind the unscientific nature of my polling process,
heres what I learned from talking with as many people as
I could on the way to Washington and while waiting in line for
the march to begin the morning of the 24th.
majority of those whose opinion I solicited were opposed to the
idea. The most common reasons were: 1) What would a sit-down accomplish?
2) First-time protesters expecting a completely legal march would
be surprised/ angry to see it include civil disobedience. 3)
Cops could get out of hand and people unprepared for it could
get hurt. 4) News media would focus on the arrests, obscuring
the message that hundreds of thousands marched for peace.
favor of sitting down, except for two longtime activists, were
generally younger. Their reasons were the same as those who responded
to the column, with the addition of "the peace movement is
much too polite. People are being killed every day. We have to
up the ante."
will we do what the Danes
did under the Nazis and simply stop
all activity for two minutes every day
at an appointed time until
the idea spreads and the
nation becomes ungovernable?
As for what
actually happened in the street that day: I didnt realize
it until afterwards, but the beginning of the march was so disorganized
that the veterans contingent I was in, initially planned
to be at the front, ended up well behind. Nevertheless, as we
neared the end of the route, my wife and I held up signs with
the words "Sit For Peace" inside the outline of a STOP
sign. Most of the march had already gone past that point, and
the momentum of those yet to come who had waited hours to move,
was definitely in a forward motion. Beginning with a brave couple
from Albany, perhaps 25 or 30 people accepted our invitation to
sit down. A guitar player joined and did a few impromptu sit down
songs. Nearly everyone who saw us gave enthusiastic, positive
responses. Many stopped to say what a good idea it was. When invited
to join in, the response was usually "Ive got a bus
to catch," or "dogs to feed," or "a job to
get to Monday."
If I can
surmise what came of this idea, it is this: it caused hundreds
of activists - those who read the column and those who saw us
sitting in Pennsylvania Avenue - to think about what the peace
movement is doing and question what more we need to do. Considering
what is at stake for the U.S. and Iraqi victims of this criminal
war, that question must be uppermost on our minds.
On the prescribed
civil disobedience day, Monday the 26th, 41 people including yours
truly, arrived at the Pentagon as people went to work in pre-dawn
darkness, and got arrested for leafleting or blocking workers
walking up to security checkpoints. Later that day, 370 people
were arrested at the White House for sitting down or hanging memorial
messages on the fence.
say "congratulations" to everyone of those arrested
and to the good people who served roles in support. But what else
can we do? Where is the planning for a national day of action
in which we block the streets of Washington and as many other
cities as possible? When will we organize massive sit-ins at congressional
offices, with wave after wave of protesters refusing to leave
until we create a crisis that must be addressed?
disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.'
will we do what the Danes did under the Nazis and simply stop
all activity for two minutes every day at an appointed time until
the idea spreads and the nation becomes ungovernable? When will
we do what our own ancestors did when whole towns turned out to
defy the immoral Fugitive Slave Act by rescuing runaway slaves
from Federal Marshals and then sent those marshals packing? When
will thousands more of us join the list of modern day patriots
who refuse to pay war taxes? We are blessed with many creative
minds that can generate plenty of good ideas - where is the leadership?
Howard Zinn provides a moral imperative if more is needed: "Civil
disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.
Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the
dictates of their leaders and have gone to war, and millions have
been killed because of this obedience... Our problem is that people
are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation
and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the
jails are full of petty thieves, and the grand thieves are running
the country. That's our problem."
of a village sheik I spoke with in Iraq last year haunt me every
day. Even as he assured me that he recognized the difference between
the government and the people of the United States, he asked,
"But you say you live in a democracy. How can this be happening
We must do
more than march a prescribed route in Washington and go home with
a new bumper sticker. We must do more than weve already
done; more than we think we can do. We can no longer afford to
limit our protests to what Good Americans are allowed in these
terrible days. We must stop this administrations crimes
against humanity. We must delegitimate, disobey and disrupt this
war and this system. Morality demands it. History demands it.
Our common humanity demands it.
Mike Ferner is a writer from Toledo, Ohio and a member of Veterans
For Peace. He can be reached at [email protected].