Reflecting on the Sept 24 march for peace in Washington, Mike Ferner asks: "When 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?"

 

Having publicly 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?

The column 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, here’s 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.

A sizable 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.

Those in 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."

When 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 didn’t 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 "I’ve 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.

I 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?

'Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.'

When 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?

Historian 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."

The words 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 to us?"

We must do more than march a prescribed route in Washington and go home with a new bumper sticker. We must do more than we’ve 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 administration’s 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.


Note: Mike Ferner is a writer from Toledo, Ohio and a member of Veterans For Peace. He can be reached at mike.ferner@sbcglobal.net.





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