I had a bit of an identity crisis last week. Twice in a row I dismissed an invitation to attend a demonstration, first a counter-demonstration to a group with a web site called “God Hates Fags,” which I will not promote by linking to them, though I have point out that the same people have other web sites called “God Hates America” and “God Hates the World.” (There’s a world map, and you can click on any highlighted country to learn why they think God hates it.) The second counter-demonstration was to the “We Stand with Israel Rally,” which I suspect is a much bigger group than the world-haters. In both cases I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for demonstrating, which made me wonder if it is accurate to keep “activist” as part of my self-description or even what that terms means.
In the case of the first counter-demonstration, which was at a city high school early in the morning, I suspected that the group mobilizing over the Internet was going to give the world-haters (who call themselves a church) more attention than they deserved. If a few extremists show up with signs, it is not news worthy, but I could imagine an organized counter-demonstration getting the whole thing on television. On the other hand, if I were a gay or lesbian student or teacher entering the school that morning, I would be heartened to see the counter-protesters. Hate shouldn’t go unanswered; I just don’t want it advertised. In any case, I couldn’t make that demonstration because I was getting my own kids to school, though it appears my concerns were unfounded. The only reference I could find in Google News was an article in a student paper that described a few homophobes and a larger (but seemingly not enormous) counter-protest that I was glad to hear originated with an alumnus who said that his goal was not to change the minds of the protesters, but to support the students and staff who would have to look at their signs.
The second counter-demonstration was harder to delete because I could have actually fit it into my schedule, though I felt myself resisting. Although it was billed as a counter-demonstration to the group of Israel supporters, it was really a protest against the brutal bombing of Gaza, which is certainly deserving of protest. Like the gay students, if I were a Palestinian I would want to know that people in the world were standing up for me, and this one seemed destined to make it on the news. But there was something about the protest/counter-protest model that just left me feeling empty. I mentioned my dilemma to my husband who said, “I think the best thing you do [in terms of social change] is your writing.” Certainly my writing would have suffered if I had taken the morning to go downtown, but I didn’t mind losing some writing time to work on the Obama campaign or for some racial healing work I spent time on recently. I found myself thinking of a comment made when some of the contributors to The Secret were on Oprah ages ago. Longtime followers of this blog will remember that I have some issues with The Secret, even though I think there is a seed of truth in it. The piece that stuck with me from the Oprah show was when one author said that he would never go to an anti-war march, but he’d be happy to go to a peace march. He asserted that we attract what we focus on, and if we focus on war, we will only have more of it. Although I think this is simplistic, there is something in it that is ringing true.
When I think of the activist events I want to attend, what comes to mind is the annual Interfaith Peace Walk, a wonderful gathering of people from diverse racial, class, and religious backgrounds spending a spring day walking from one congregation to another in a mix of silence, song, and solidarity. That event always has such a positive vibe, and it draws a range of people that most anti-war demonstrations don’t. It also draws connections between violence in our own communities and violence in the world, as opposed to just reacting to the crisis of the day. That’s the other piece I’m trying to think about: it is necessary to stop the immediate violence in Gaza, but the bigger challenge is to build the trust and mutual acceptance necessary to create any kind of lasting peace in the Middle East. I don’t see how standing against the Israel supporters will do that, though one could argue that real reconciliation will never come until Americans stand up to Israel. Still, that seems simplistic, too. Combatants for Peace come to mind as a model of positive peace work, though one that is for people in the region, not US tax-payers like me.
There are many good people grappling with the question of how to promote peace right now in Philadelphia. Although I am not part of the week-long program, I do feel drawn to the intergenerational and interfaith day planned for Saturday, which is also making the connection between peace on our streets and peace in the world. If any readers are participating in the week, I hope you’ll feel free to tell us about it here or post a link.