“We who believe in freedom cannot rest…” by Peggy Gish

If you feel discouraged and overwhelmed with all the wars and problems in our society, join the crowd…of people who care!

It’s disturbing to know that African American youth fear for their lives when stopped by police and feel betrayed by their society. It’s disturbing to belong to society which allows rich bankers to create money and personally reap the rewards; that allows rich corporations to be given the same rights as people, and to buy candidates, and to direct their votes. We can feel helpless when laws allow energy companies to come into our communities, take out the profits, and leave us with polluted air and water; or when talk-show hosts, funded by rich corporations, are so smooth that they can convince people that there is no climate change urgency or persuade the poor that government programs that help them, are not good for our country, so the poor will vote for candidates that gut them. It’s painful to learn how rape on university campuses has been tolerated and not dealt with. What can we do when the thirst for oil drives our country into endless war?

Those of you, who have been speaking and acting for justice and peace over the years, are justified in feeling discouraged, it is hard! Yet, if you care about what the next generations will have to live and deal with, you can’t just sit back comfortably and allow the disasters to come more quickly or those who manipulate our country’s policies for gain, to have even more freedom to do so. Here are some general suggestions:

1. First of all, I urge you not to give up, but do accept that it’s a long, hard struggle and that you can’t change everything.
2. There’s work for everyone. Even if you are not able to be out in the streets, you may be able to write letters to the editor, contribute financially, talk with your neighbors, or offer support to victims of violence. Persons of faith can pray.
3. See the interconnectedness between all the justice and peace issues, but you don’t have to address them all. Pick one or two that are the most urgent and that others in your community can relate to. Study it more deeply and expose the underlying lies, injustice, structural nature, or ism(s) at the root of the problem or violence.
4. Don’t try to do it alone, but find others around you who share your concerns (even if you need to go to a nearby town), and work together and support and encourage each other when it gets difficult.
5. Embrace things that help you maintain hope and inspiration, such as children, beauty of nature, faith, ability to forgive, laughter and fun, stories and writings of others who have come before you. Celebrate the positive things being done and the new generation of people who are joining in the struggle. Keep those sources of hope active in your life. Do not let anger or bitterness eat away at your strength. I have found that I feel less helpless and discouraged when I am actively doing something to make a difference.
6. Keep a vision of what you want for the world and then live out that vision in your own life. Embrace love and fairness in your own actions; use less fossil fuel; build caring, diverse communities; buy local food; support alternative news sources.

Let’s also remember the many powerful nonviolent methods that movements throughout the years have used. Adapt them to fit your particular concern. Here are a few:

Exposing the lies and telling the truth helps people see more clearly and weakens the power of those who perpetuate violence or injustice. There’s no limit to the lies we’re told in our society—that military intervention will solve the problems in another country; that U.S.’s antiterrorism policies make us safer; that a woman who is the victim of sexual violence is responsible for it; that climate change is a hoax; that oil and gas drilling does little environmental damage and helps the local economy; that Muslims are out to destroy our society; or that giving large tax breaks to the rich will trickle down and help the poor.

Truth-telling can involve gathering information, writing articles or letters to government officials, as well as using art forms such as song, drama, film, and posters. Creative symbolic actions, such as marches, street theater, pray-ins, mock villages, or die-ins, tell the truth about a situation, but also point to the alternative or the solutions. They can dramatize the results of U.S. Military intervention or drone warfare, how mass incarceration of African Americans perpetuates a racial caste system, or how immigrants are kept in detention centers with no legal representation. Truths they tell may include that it is only the arms industries which prosper from war, that there is a direct connection between peace and societal prosperity, or that certain big-box stores don’t pay their workers a living wage. A woman who was raped on a college campus carries around her mattress to dramatize the fact that the perpetrator was still unsanctioned and on campus.

Accompaniment and advocacy work can mean being present in a courtroom watching a judge handle the case of an African American youth being tried for a minor crime; people from different faiths or races coming together to listen to each other’s pain, to do joint social service projects in the community, or to urge an institution to change an unjust policy; a group trained in nonviolence having a regular peaceful presence in a park where high school youth gather after school, provoking fights; or being active in a group proposing an alternative monetary policy that would relieve our national debt. In the 1980s, the day after a cross was burned on the lawn of an interracial family, a group from our local “Ready Response Team” visited the family, offering supportive presence. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a group from Athens visited the Islamic Center and offered to accompany anyone who feared a backlash against Muslims.

Intervention is sometimes called for when people’s lives seem in immediate danger or if a person is being harassed or bullied, and may take the form of physically standing in the way or verbally interrupting a racist, sexist, or homophobic remark or joke. One day, in a parking lot, my late husband, Art, saw a man verbally abusing a woman and starting to slap her. Without saying anything, Art, walked closer to the couple and just stood clearly in the man’s sight and watched. The man soon stopped and walked away. Sometimes resistance or civil disobedience seems called for after other forms of persuasion or negotiation haven’t worked or to make a strong public statement. This can be blocking a truck carrying hazardous wastes to an injection well, or sitting in an intersection after lack of a just response to Trayvon Martin’s or Michael Brown’s murders.

We face many crises today, but we also have creative and powerful ways of responding. I hope you will stay in the struggle, taking nonviolent action—and in singing “Ella’s song,” (by Bernice Johnson Reagon) “We who believe in freedom [peace/justice] cannot rest until it comes!”

It may be a long journey, but remember, we don’t have to make it alone.

** Peggy Gish has recently returned from a 2 ½ month time working in northern Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. Her recent book is Walking Through Fire: Iraqis’ Struggle for Justice and Reconciliation (Cascade Books, 2013)

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