By Jeff Boyd
My motivation to get out of bed was the size of a mustard seed the morning after Christian Peace Witness for Iraq . As an introvert at my first demonstration, I was physically and emotionally spent. But since it was a rare opportunity to be involved with these issues that I care about, I forced myself to get up and head to the reflecting pool to get my orange jumpsuit for the last day of the 100 Days Campaign (Apr 30, 2009). I arrived at the pool by the Lincoln Memorial a little late and couldn’t find the orange crowd anywhere. Half frustrated and half relieved, I walked back to Lafayette Park where I knew they’d be arriving at 11:00am.
When a small crew started setting up a stage, I decided to ask where the marchers were. Answer: the reflecting pool at Congress, not the Lincoln Memorial. Details. As I neared the Capitol Building on Pennsylvania Avenue, I met up with the orange river flowing my direction. Too late to get my own jumpsuit, I tagged along at the end.
I had an interesting (disturbing?) conversation with one protester as we marched to the park. He clearly had a more nuanced understanding of the political and religious factions within Iran, Iraq and other countries in the region. However, his description of what he would like to do to members of the Bush administration were hardly peaceful. He wasn’t really against torture; he just wanted it to be used on someone else. With this I cannot agree. Only through the miracle of enemy-love will we build a sustainable peace.
I wasn’t able to get a sign to hold until we arrived in the park for speeches from representatives of Amnesty International (blog), the ACLU, TASSC and other organizations. Speeches highlighted positive steps taken by the Obama administration and also called for more swift follow-through on early promises. Though said in different words, we were reminded that the state is still the state.
Wikipedia summarizes the three basic objectives of the campaign:
- The planned date and closure of Guantanamo Bay;
- The issue of an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
- To ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.
Because I wasn’t in the march as planned, I was free to observe the various players in the event and to compare it with the previous night’s demonstration. The first was larger but I saw no media, whereas the end of the 100 Days Campaign was widely covered. I believe this was because it had grown over three months, was in day light, had a better marching route, was more colorful, represented more organizations, and likely had media-savvy personnel who recruited more coverage.
Amnesty International does not engage in civil disobedience, so AI demonstrators disbanded before the group moved to the White House. I was asked to conceal my AI sign if I planned to observe the arrests. Fifty-five of those who were eventually arrested represented the 55 people in Guantanamo who are cleared to be released but are still being held. This is a difficult issue precisely because the previous administration chose to make a legal no-man’s-land.
Once the arrests were winding down, I moved from the unofficial media corner to the back where the remaining hooded protesters were reading what is known about the 55 detainees who could be released. At the end of each vignette, the group chanted “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
One well-dressed heckler was giving one of the leaders a hard time as he packed up. Voices started rising and emotions heated up. Finally the protester yelled (not screamed, half-shouted?) that he didn’t want to talk to anyone who supports torture. I think I understood how he felt. The heckler was being annoying and confrontational and held an “immoral opposing viewpoint.” But if we never engage those we disagree with, how will we win them over? That’s why Nixon visited China and Reagan engaged Russia. That’s why I applaud Obama for reaching out to Cuba and others.
I don’t believe protests win over those with opposing viewpoints; demonstrations just bring attention to issues. It’s in clearly articulated ideas and in trust-building relationships that I believe personal and social transformation can take place. May we have the grace and spiritual strength to engage those we disagree with, to speak “the truth” in love, to not draw our maps in pen and ink, to hold our views at arm’s length as Chris Blake reminds us. I know this is hard. I’ve failed at it when talking with friends and family about peace issues. But may we move in that direction, offering grace to those we meet along the way.
Today I was surprised to read this phrase on an advertisement sign outside a lamp store: “Maturity is feeling pity for fools instead of hatred.” Something worth thinking about.
Why did I choose to spend 30+ hours on a train so I could stand and hold a sign for two days? Did I think it would actually change things, that war and torture and indefinite detention would suddenly end? No.
While I don’t believe in a utopian present, I do believe that I’m called to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8). Those held for years on end who lack the benefits of habeas corpus and due process need a voice. If I were them, I would want someone to speak on my behalf. Since the event was over by mid-afternoon, I headed to the Holocaust Musem. It seemed an appropriate end to the social action events. At the museum I was reminded of this famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemöller that fits these questions well:
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
- 100 Days Campaign
- 100 Days Campaign – Press
- 100 Days Campaign – April 30
- Witness Against Torture (not currently functioning)
- Anti Torture Protesters Arrested (clip 1) You can hear the news person from Press TV doing a number of takes on her coverage. I was standing there listening to her get it just right. I don’t remember who recorded these two clips. I’m not able to upload my own cell phone footage.
- Anti Torture Protesters Arrested (clip 2)
NOTE: All photographs were taken with my cell phone, so the quality is quite poor.