"I tried to fathom whether human feelings were able to withstand such a vast power machine... Perhaps the only option was to forget, to not see. To listen to the official version of things, to half-listen, distractedly, and respond with nothing more than a sigh... or to turn my life into a battlefield where you don't hope to survive but merely to go down after a good fight.
-Roberto Saviano, Gomorrah
This quote begins the introduction of the book, "Long Time Passing: Mothers Speak About War & Terror", by Susan Galleymore.
I met Ms. Galleymore in Seattle the other night and bought her book. This mother of an American soldier flew to Iraq to visit her son on a military base. She then traveled to war zones for the next four years, gathering stories from women (and some men) who are living under conditions I cannot imagine. Susan Galleymore's heart and eloquence was evident in Seattle, and I look forward to reading her book. But I cannot get the opening quote out of my head.
I read this as I sat in a beautiful, peaceful garden at work. Taking a break on the first warm, sunny day of the year, I eagerly opened my new book. And then this paragraph stopped my heart and set my mind racing. I began to sob for the rest of my break and had a hard time pulling myself together to go back inside.
I felt frustration over the people that can "not see" and only respond with a sigh. I recognize myself as one who wonders if I will not survive, who is willing to "fight" for peace and justice. And I wonder what makes one choose one response or the other. How can I move the one who sighs to become one who acts? This question has run through my mind for years, angering me, frustrating me, spurring me to begin the Teen Peace Project, to serve on the United for Peace & Justice national steering committee, to be a founding member of the National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth.
I do not think of my activism as a "fight". I think of it as work or a struggle. I want to be peaceful in my work toward peace, to "be the peace you wish to bring to the world".
This has been my greatest personal struggle, to set aside anger and ego as I work to end war and find justice.
I have stood in a battlefield, facing lines of riot cops, heart pounding in fear of rubber bullets and tear gas. I have been arrested eight or nine times now, once spending two and a half days in jail. I have stood quietly before a military base gate, trying to get the community to recognize the danger the base poses to our local community if there should be an unintentional explosion, and recognizing the danger the base poses to those communities deemed the "enemy" by our government, who will receive intentional explosions on a daily - if not hourly basis. Because of standing quietly at the gate, I have documents from the court that state I
am a danger to the community.
I try to remain hopeful as the wars drag on for years. I somehow knew this would be a long slog before it began. During one terrible and long night in jail, as the deputies were cruel, we were not fed, a sick cell mate vomited and coughed up blood - yet she was not given medical care of a blanket, and we sat on a cement floor or cement bench in a crowded holding cell. Some of us gave an extra layer of clothing to make a bed and blanketing for the sick woman. I reminded one of the students in the cell with me that we were the ones who had the power-- we had wanted to be arrested, and we were. We were just where we wanted to be (although we wanted to be treated humanely). We set in motion the action to protest the Iraq occupation, the police were playing the role that we wanted them to play. If we have a protest without arrests, there is no media reports to remind the public that resistance to war continues, and perhaps encourage others to join the resistance. My joy in having students share my cell gave me hope for the desire of peace to blossom in another generation.
The costs to my health, the legal fees, time lost from work to attend endless court hearings, the stress of facing out-of-control police, possible months in jail, are all part of the good fight. I do hope that I can survive. At times I have been scared that I wouldn't survive, because I have asthma and tear gas and pepper spray could have dangerous consequences for me. But any inconvenience I live through is nothing compared to the lives of women in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, as my country's bombs fall on their country. It is more likely I will live through this - and far less likely that an Iraqi or Afghan woman will live through their attacks.
The thought of having pity for myself in this peaceful garden made me ashamed. And then I cried because I wished I could be one who could just sigh. Life would be easier, worries simpler. I have never known why I struggle for peace, I only know I must. As much as I do not understand those who can sigh and turn away, I do not understand why I cannot.
I really do wonder what leads others to "sigh" or "fight" or struggle. I only know I must continue to work for peace.