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To the Broad Peace and Anti-War Movements (and all who resist injustice)

By Michael T. McPhearson

Thank you for all the work you have done and your commitment to the cause of peace and justice. We have weathered a tough 12 months, and I thank you for your perseverance.

For many, the year began with expectations of change, for others it began with great cynicism. The economic slowdown pushed many of us from our paid organizing positions, diminishing the movements' staff capacity, and domestic political realities diminished our presence in the streets. Pundits and critics claim the anti-war/peace movements have stalled and perhaps lost relevance. Some accuse us of being loyal to Democrats, or worse, more about being anti-Bush than for peace. Others declare us ineffective, unrealistic and naïve. Both our detractors and the cold reality of our failure to end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, have us questioning ourselves and wondering if our efforts really matter? I know I have asked myself this question.

Of course we must examine our strategies and tactics, identify our weaknesses and evaluate our failures in our efforts to transform to meet the political moment. We must be truthful and tough on ourselves to remain vibrant and active. Internal critique and constructive criticism are central to progress, but we also must guard against a prolonged sense of pessimism. I know this is easy for me to say. What have I faced? I have not lost my child or another loved one directly to war. I am not a victim of war, and my participation in war did not take my mind or body. I know I am blessed.

I also realize the future does not look bright. We face the best funded and most powerful war machine in human history. Our political leaders work more to maintain the system that enriches a chosen few rather than facilitate empowerment of the common person to uplift us all. And more times than not, the people are either tied up by the challenges of making ends meet, uninformed and misguided by the machine, or lulled into complacency by the comforts of relative prosperity. After eight years of struggle against war and a new President who is taking the same road as his predecessor on the issue of war, many of us are simply tired and the prospects for stopping the current surge in Afghanistan do not look promising anyway. So why continue in the struggle?

Because, at the end of the day, resistance matters.

When I feel down and out, when I begin to wonder if all my efforts are for naught; I think about my ancestors who died and suffered through the Middle Passage. I think about those who toiled in and survived the hot fields of the US South and the brutal sugar plantations of the Caribbean. My despair can never be as profound as their moments of anguish and questioning, yet they carried on.

I remember the great social and economic justice movements of US history. I think about the Abolitionist, the pioneers of the women's rights movement and their successors, the founders of the labor movements, my elders of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the warriors of the First Nations' resistance efforts, the organizers of the LGBT movements and the activist of the immigrant movement. I think about the shoulders upon which I stand and the backs that were bent, maimed and broken for me to inherit a better day.

Most of those who struggled before me saw very little if any change. Nonetheless, they set the foundation for tremendous change. It is the change that I see when I look at their lives and reflect on my own. It is change that I must recognize, proclaim and embrace as my inheritance of their great efforts. It is change that I must acknowledge to understand just how far we have come so that I can maintain full consciousness that any rights, comforts and privileges I enjoy today I owe to their resolve. It is change that I must build upon to honor their memories and to pay the debt I owe them for their sacrifice.

I think about the US Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I imagine the authors and signers of these documents had great positive aspirations about the future of humanity. They knew an enormous body of work was ahead of them. I remember that we are the guardians of these ideals, we continue their work, and that we are the current architects and bricklayers building the realities of tomorrow. Our efforts set the stage to bring into fruition the vision of human dignity for all people.

I think about Dr. King's Riverside Church speech condemning US actions in Vietnam.  He told us, “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality..., we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.”

We are those clergy and laypersons concerned of our generation. I ask myself, where would I be without the struggles of these brave people? What kind of world would it be? Most important, what kind or world do I want it to be?

I think about the Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Palestinians and others who face the full force of US aggression. They resist and they have an expectation that those of us who claim to believe in human dignity and the sanctity of human life will resist with them.  I think of the US solider who believes she or he is doing the right thing, and my responsibility as a citizen of this country to tell my government in a strong clear voice, this is wrong and I do not give you permission to act in this way in my name.

This brings me to a personal reason I must shake off any malaise of fatalism and put my heart in the belief that I can help bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice. What do I believe? Who am I and what do I want to think of myself when my name is called? Why do I resist? I resist because it is a reflection of my soul. My resistance affirms to me who I am or want to be. I was taught as a child that we are all children of God(dess). My resistance is a confirmation of my dignity and self-worth and recognition of that same worth I see in all others. I cannot let God's children, my brothers and sisters suffer without registering my protest and taking action to stop it. I pray there will be others to stand with me if my moment of need arises.

Finally I come back to you, my comrades in the struggle. We have chanted, held signs, marched and raised our voices and fist in the streets together. We have risked arrest and been arrested together. We have petitioned called and protested Congress and the President together. We have bound our futures together by acting and speaking out together. If the day of repression comes, we will be rounded up together. I thank you for being there with me and for me. I thank you for being there for all of humanity. If not us, who would resist? We are the opposition to US imperialism and endless war. Your efforts have been sheroic. I salute you.

Happy New Year !

(Reprinted from Compost-Dispatch, Vol 21 Nos 1-2, Jan-Feb 2010, pp 2-3. Compost-Dispatch is a publication of The Gateway Greens, St. Louis, MO - http://www.gateway-greens.org.)