This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

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The chants rang out: “Who is a terrorist?” with the reply echoing, “Bush is a terrorist!” “This is what democracy looks like” – with the reply “Bush is what hypocrisy looks like!” Bless their hearts; people are angry and fed up with war and occupation. The need to vent their anger at the geo-political realities certainly seems necessary as the war for oil and domination continues in its fifth year – with signs that it might not abate until our military is completely broken or our political “leaders” grow some spine and stand up to the Administration.

I remember hearing Dick Gregory, the great humanitarian, civil rights activist, and comedian say during the protests against the Vietnam War, “If democracy is as good as we claim it is, we won’t have to shove it down others throats with the barrel of a gun. If it is so good, people will steal it!” The notion of going to war to establish “democracy” in the Middle East is preposterous. But chanting epithets on a street corner in south Minneapolis at noon on a sunny October day didn’t make me proud that “this is what democracy looks like” when it is coupled with angry personal taunts at the President or his policies.

Don’t get me wrong – I think those policies are not only misguided, wrong, and ultimately evil – and, yes, invading a nation which posed no threat to us and littering its countryside and cities with cluster bombs, depleted uranium munitions, and more “conventional” bombs dropped from thousands of feet above so the pilot cannot witness the human carnage below is an act of terrorism. But our political task is not to engage in self-righteous bombast but to find ways to invite our fellow country-folk (who voted in large numbers to keep Bush in power in 2004) to re-imagine what it could mean to renounce empire and rejoin the community of nations. Self-righteous anger can only get one so far – and we have an enormous job ahead of us to turn around the ship of state and convert it from a battleship to a hospital ship, cruise liner, or pleasure craft.

Do our signs and banners encourage dialog and conversion or do they serve as a bludgeon against our adversaries? Is our presence on the street corner friendly and inviting to those who might be ready to start on a new journey toward peacemaking?

I envision an open circle, welcoming for others to join in, holding candles lit up instead of cursing the darkness. Talking with each other, confessionally; what is it in my own lifestyle that encourages our political leaders to think that we want to maintain our comforts at the expense of others – thus requiring a military force to prevent others from getting what we have (to paraphrase LBJ before he invaded the Dominican Republic in the mid-60s.) Only when we are vulnerable to each other and open can we allow “the other” (be they our neighbors or even our “enemies”) to engage our common humanity and together seek a way out of our spiral of violence.

I stood silently with my rainbow-colored PEACE flag alongside my friends and fellow activists somewhat embarrassed at the projecting of evil solely on the other – the President and an ineffective Congress. Calling others “evil-doers” and labeling an “axis of evil” hasn’t worked out so well (in the long run) for President Bush. Why should we think it will work any better for us? Competent military leaders know you must “win the hearts and minds” of the nation you occupy to ultimately be successful. Maybe the peace community needs to recognize the same goal applies within our own nation which is presently “occupied” by the military-industrial complex.

Shouting and sloganeering rarely opens my heart to really listen to others. Can we find some other ways to offer our principled opposition to the war while inviting others into our (hopefully, expanding) circles?