December 31, 2014
Dear Friend of Justice and Peace,
This is the traditional time of year for expressions of gratitude. Certainly, for people from the United States, Thanksgiving and December are important times to celebrate forgiveness and hope, to be generous and extra “good.” This letter is a little bit personal weather report and a bit fundraising appeal for the efforts I am closest to. I haven’t been one to throw all my eggs in one basket, so even though this letter started out as a pitch for World Beyond War, it has morphed into a more general request for political engagement.
World Beyond War (WBW) is trying to enlarge and unify social movements around the common but downplayed reality that all over the world, people in conflict usually don’t come to blows, and nations in conflict rarely resort to war. This truth might seem in doubt, but mainly because peacefully resolved conflicts don’t create the bloody casualties and devastated landscapes that make for exciting stories in the media.
There is very little that I don’t like about Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). It has grown so much in the past six months that it is a very different organization than before. People all over the world, and U.S. Jewish communities more and more, are struck by the integrity of the group’s analysis and purpose. We’re trying fervently to bring the Jewish community out of fear and militarization and into right relationship with Palestinians, not as a nation, but as a people. Through JVP you can find Palestinian and Israeli groups that deserve much support as well. CODEPINK: Women for Peace continue to take risks and stand creatively for justice. CODEPINK members repeatedly find ways to enhance free speech by getting into rooms where dishonest proceedings and speakers try to shut out integrity and the voices of the oppressed. Medea Benjamin, Nancy Mancias and all the rest raise voices and questions despite simplistic denunciations for interrupting the costly speech of “Liars of State.” Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV) and our allies the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) are constantly out front, pushing back against drones, corruption and militarism despite horrendous violence all around them. Their symbol is the sky blue scarf which bespeaks the one sky we all share and love. The War Resisters League, which I’m not really affiliated with anymore, deserves kudos for responding to early calls from abroad to organize against tear gas shipments from the United States that have been used to repress democratic movements around the world. WRL also raised early alarm bells about the influx of military hardware and mindsets into domestic police agencies and as part of War Resisters International supports resisters to military conscription worldwide. Now, the movement has grown beyond much connection to its early protagonist amid cries for justice (which necessarily must presage peace) and BLACK LIVES MATTER. I hope people get news from reliably honest sources like Democracy Now! and Waging Nonviolence. United for Peace and Justice continues to do important work even with its smaller profile and deserves more thanks and support than it usually garners. And I can’t say enough about the important connections Bruce Gagnon and the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. I am ever grateful to the Catholic Worker movement for showing me the value of direct service amidst political and spiritual agitation. My association with Plowshares activists and the Pacific Life Community continue to give me a home base, and a challenge to love more and do more. Spiritually, I am happy to be back in San Francisco with the Reclaiming Community. Solstice this year was very heartwarming, grounding and politically charged.
This year is the centenary of the beginning of World War I, and the informal “Christmas Truce” that emerged in the trenches of Ypres, France. Many groups and politicians have called forth this reminder in their year-end appeals. In the midst of horrific barbarity, people can rise above gun-sights to share in the common humanity of people they’ve been told to fear, hate and kill. As Francis Tolliver immortalized that day:
“Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.”
That those men returned to their fighting and killing shouldn’t diminish the import of this shining example of rising above the fray. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it when he spoke out strongly against the Vietnam war in 1967, “Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war.”
In the final year of his life, King was continually reaffirming his deepening anti-war feelings. In 1967, in his final Christmas sermon, he articulated the principal tenet of World Beyond War: “Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete.” He continued,
“We will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.”
World Beyond War created a pledge which has received worldwide support as a wake up call for peace. We can’t piecemeal a campaign against the insanity of war, and myriad separate efforts exist confronting local centers of war-making. WBW is taking a long and pragmatic approach, pointing out the consistent failure of war to bring about justice and peace. In a sobering and yet uplifting essay (“Acts of Hope” 2003), Rebecca Solnit wrote : “It’s always too soon to go home. And it’s always too soon to calculate effect….We need a movement that doesn’t just respond to the evils of the present but calls forth the possibilities of the future. We need a revolution of hope.”
That sentiment inspires me to support WBW. It is developing a strategy to end all war and all preparedness for war. Successful diplomacy creates economic benefits for almost everyone, but those few who profit from war fan sparks of fear into flames of weapons fire. More generally and personally, it keeps me from withdrawing from activism. Like the line early in the Jewish teaching Pirket Avot (Teachings of the Parents): “You’re not obligated to finish the task, but nor are you free to desist.”
We all want a World Beyond War, but we can’t get there only fighting each war; the institution itself needs to be opposed. We all need to find a vantage point to see the forest for the trees.
I am only marginally employed at the moment. Still, I can’t help but share something with the many groups and networks that are inspiring creative actions as we challenge all the manifestations of MLK’s “triple evils” of racism, militarism and economic exploitation. Make an online donation; sign a pledge; get a t-shirt; send a check. Carry a World Beyond War banner. Be counted. Reject war in the most visible way you can imagine. You are not alone!
For a loving and justice-filled 2015,
Jim (See more at haberjim.wordpress.com or contact me at haber.jim via gmail)