Last night I spoke with Kathy Kelly, who just returned from Iraq the day before as a steady member of the Iraq Peace Team, about her experiences there over the past few months, and where she sees the movement headed here in the United States. She and I spoke about an article she wrote for the Electronic Iraq website, an heartwrecking story about a mutual good friend of ours in Iraq. Kathy decided to leave Iraq after her conversation with our friend and driver, Sattar, who is quite possibly the kindest person I have ever met. Reading her account of his ordealduring the U.S.-led invasion (http://electroniciraq.net/news/692.shtml) made me shudder to think what my friend had endured over the past month.
Squeamish by nature, Sattar had spent weeks working in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in a hospital, volunteering for overworked, overstretched doctors, nurses and hospital staff. He did everything from moving patients to inserting IV needles.
Another member of the Iraq Peace Team, Cathy Breen mentioned that it will probably be easier to transport Americans across the Iraqi border now. He said, “You’re right. This is your country now.”
Currently in Iraq, the American military, the American government and American corporate interests all control nearly every facet of life forthe Iraqis. Americans have almost single-handedly destroyed the country, and now want to profit from rebuilding it. UNICEF takes grant money from USAID, and the contractors must go through the U.S. government for permission to rebuild, renovate or rehabilitate any sector of Iraqi society. In essence, we control everything.
And what is the peace movement to do? Before and during the war, bright ideas were a dime a dozen for stopping the invasion. Everyone had a spin on what would work best. And now, we are left at an uncomfortable juncture. We did not stop the war, and we have to figure out what to do now.
It seems that American interests from the military to the government to the corporations to even the peace movement have emerging ways of telling Iraqis how things should be in their country now.
What if we paused a moment, took a deep breath, and gave the Iraqis some space to allow them themselves to discern what would be best for them. We should give ordinary Iraqis some time to take stock of their lives and make decisions of their own before deciding that we, too, even the well-intentioned peace movement, have control over the direction oftheir lives. We should also encourage the United Nations and its international bodies to play an appropriate role in the reconstruction of Iraq as well as in global disarmament and peacekeeping.
Rather than focusing on the external, on what is going on in Iraq, we should be focusing internally on what is going on socially and politically in our own cities and states. As citizens of the United States, what do we have the most authority over? Our country and our lives.
Recently I spent some time at the Earthsong community near Na’alehu, Hawaii. I had gone there to finish writing and organizing a book on peace education that I began working on in mid-2001. The entire Earthsong community is sustainable. The women staying there urinate in the yard and use compost toilets for solid waste. All buildings are powered by solar energy, and the copious garden space provides lush abundance of fruits, vegetables and grains. It was quite a rude awakening for me; I initially whined for the nearest Hilton. I am not accustomed to this lifestyle and found it rather disorienting.
Staying at Earthsong ended up being the most valuable lesson in peace education for me. I got my own radical, revolutionary course in peace education and ustainability in confronting the crucial inner peacework that makes the outer peacework possible. Since the war started, I havefelt ornery, angry, useless, agitated, sullen and just about every emotion in the range between frustration and rage. In a word, I have been unbalanced.
Perhaps this is a familiar experience? Has anyone ditched family or friends in the past two months in order to do “the work” for preventing, opposing or ending the war? Has anyone been rundown, sick or suffered poor nutrition? Has anyone been in at least one major fight? Anyone missed sleep?
What if we realized that our inner lives all the aforementioned questions actually mirrored all the mess, craziness and dysfunction ofthe external world, i.e. everything we’re working against. What if allthat we oppose and disavow actually exists right inside of us, and in order to effectively confront the greater evils of the world, we have to begin in our own space and consciousness?
Rather than saying, “George W. Bush is hateful, ignorant and greedy,” we could turn the statement around and examine where each of us individually is hateful, ignorant and greedy.We need to acknowledge and honor our own lives and processes, being fully congruent in our thoughts and actions. Integrity means that we don’t put on the charade of being a happy, cheerful peacemaker out in the world and then return home grumbly and gnarly spreading peace in the world and hate in our homes.
We should be mindful of the power of our thoughts, words and actions. We need to be aware of ourselves and of the need to keep balance and not let ignorance govern our behavior. And we should be especially concerned about our greediness, our over-consumptive lives and mindless wasteful practices. How can we begin to model what we would like to see happen in the world on a wider scale if we are not putting the “reduce, reuse, recycle” principle into practice. Living sustainably, calling for peace and justice in our own homes and neighborhoods is making the first step. Founder of the Catholic Worker communities, Dorothy Day once said that those who have more thanthey need are stealing from the poor.
Yet, as I recall my experience in Hawaii, I heard many people who are living in beautiful conditions say that they could never return back tothe mainland after experiencing the liberation of living sustainably. While it’s important for them to live their truth, it makes me concerned for the areas where more people need to hear the message of peace through self-inquiry, mutual causality rather than blame and sustainable living practices.
In general, there’s an overabundance of activists and “progressives” living in well-informed, cushioned, safe communities, especially in urban hubs. A whole country of consumption, of Wal-Marts and Rite-Aids, of CostCo’s and Big Lots, needs to be exposed to the reality that not onlyoil is a precious resource, but arable land, access to clean water and fresh air are as well. More people with experience in sustainable living need to fan out and bring these once-lost-now-regained practices to places where people are living most unsustainably. People in Colorado, in Southern California, in the Bible Belt, the Deep South and especially Texas need to hear about compost, about community garden space and about practices that make individuals and the planet healthier.
A redefining moment for the peace movement
As a group, the antiwar mobilization did not stop the invasion of Iraq,but we certainly made it much more costly on a political level, both nationally and internationally. Our challenge now is to transform the momentum from opposing this war to addressing concerns in our country, drawing attention to our ailing domestic economy, to the obliterated education budgets in so many states, and to the welfare of our citizens young, old, differently-abled and veterans.
We need to be looking at the roots of what made this war possible.We need to examine why the military is such an attractive option for young people, a stable, well-funded and respectable institution that provides an alternative to the fact that upon graduation, many students have no viable skills or direction in an ever-shrinking job market. Because there is no living wage in our country, we need to be fully cooperating with the labor movement to ensure that jobs pay well enough and utilize students’ skills and talents that they are not subsumed into the ranks of the military simply to pay for school or have some boundaries which should have been set and supported by their home communities.We need to examine why education is bearing the brunt of budget cuts. A systematically undereducated country is a malleable, gullible country. An ignorant population is easily swayed by propaganda and fear, troublingly influenced not by books and words but by images and sounds. Having given up much of our critical thinking responsibility to powerful elected or appointed decision-makers or their corporate media mouthpieces, many American citizens cannot tell truth from fiction and are paralyzed in the chasm between.
We need to examine why we do not have people in office who represent people like us, people who have our interests at heart. By and large, we do not have people in office who represent us because by and large, we are not running for office! One-third of the elections in our country go uncontested every year, a free and natural platform in our democratic process that we do not take advantage of. To some extent, people who want to create change that will bring about balance and peace to the world must learn to play the political game and learn how, in our own integrity, we can play to win. A few months ago, I was moved by a speech by Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder who told the UC Santa Barbara audience that we need to run candidates for office who will win. We laud candidates like Kucinich, Wellstone and Ted Kennedy but are reluctant to run for public office and attempt to make an impact like they have.
(Michael Moore ran for the School Board during his Senior year of high school, got elected and eventually played a role in the Principal’s early resignation.)
The Weapons Industry: Getting to the roots of the problem
The technology used to wage the war, from start to finish, were researched, developed and built here in the United States. Our number one moneymaking export is weapons. The United States supplies nearly three-fourths of the weapons used in conflicts going on worldwide. The industry which produces weapons of mass destruction has its home in the United States.
The nuclear weapons industry is maintained and overseen by the University of California Regents who have had exclusive contracts with the United States Department of Energy for the past fifty years. The UC Nuclear Free campaign, a project of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, seeks to shed light on the UC’s complicity in the research, development, manufacturing and testing of nuclear weapons since their inception. It is immoral and inappropriate that universities who are charged with intellectual growth are also the sole responsible parties for producing weapons of mass destruction.
Yet these are not faceless entities. There are real people, real graduate students and real professors, real administrators with real families who are just doing their jobs, the same as the employees at Boeing, Raytheon, McDonnell-Douglas and TRW. They are corporations who employ people not in a void but rather in a context, in their contexts as a professor needing tenure, as a graduate student needing funding, as a secretary needing stability and health insurance which exist for their livelihood.
We cannot begin to transform, or even shut down, the weapons manufacturing industries without directly impacting people who work there and who do not set the policies.
It’s conventional to hammer on the top of the power triangle, exposing the CEO’s, the shady business practices and the sweetheart deals for their blatant war profiteering. CorpWatch is a crucial instrument in this endeavor.
It’s radical to get to the base of the power triangle, the workers in their average lives, and start organizing and influencing the employees!
Oil and Power
One of the primary reasons among many that this invasion took place, to no one’s surprise, is oil. Evidenced by the contracts secured by Halliburton and Bechtel, the government and corporate insiders positioned themselves to make a killing, so to speak, on their oil-based opportunities.In revising our critique of the motivations of the Bush administration, we should also take a look at how we depend on their nouveau conquistador policies. How many of us drove here to this gathering? Flew here? Carpooled? Rode bicycles? Used biodiesel? Used public transportation? We should be especially observant of our own hypocrisyand our dependence on petroleum products, not only on fuel but on plastics as well.
Natural resources like oil are at the heart of global conflicts. Water and coastline space are already limited resources as the ocean levels rise and access to clean water is more scarce. These issues certainly will float to the surface in the next few years.
The war was not only about oil, though. Regional control and domination served as powerful motivators for this conflict as well, and the increasing connections between Iraq and the struggle for a free Palestine cannot be overlooked. Already interconnected, another layer of overlap between these places is the context of occupation: Palestine by Israel,and Iraq by the United States.
What to do about Iraq?
With respect to Iraq itself, we have our work cut out for us. First and most importantly, the sanctions regime which our State Department said would remain in place “as long as Saddam Hussein is in power or until the end of time” are still punishing the people of Iraq. What use do economic sanctions serve, and is there a bigger global lesson to be learned fromthe devastating effects that have killed more than a million and a halfpeople in Iraq since 1990? The issue of the sanctions, contrary to some opinions, is not obsolete. The recalcitrant sanctions are most relevant now, when the goalpost established by the State Department has been reached.
In many of the news reports that I have read recently, especially through independent media, the common sentiment of the Iraqi people is tepid graciousness for their “liberation” and scalding desire for the rapid exit of U.S. presence in their country. The Iraqi people want the United States out of their country. They are furious that U.S. soldiers and tanks protected the Ministry of Oil and let looters and ransackers destroy food stocks, precious artifacts and civilian infrastructure. Just recently a group of Iraqi antiwar, anti-occupation protesters were killed by our military for demonstrating. Is this the free and democratic Iraq the Bush administration envisioned? Apparently not.
As I said before, we should not give up on the United Nations as a powerful intermediary in creating and maintaining peace in the Middle East, and we should not give up on ourselves. After the first Gulf War, much of the peace movement felt frustration and chagrin for the lack ofsuccess in stopping the war, and effectively went to sleep on the issue until 1996 when many realized that the war had not ended. No-Fly-Zones and sanctions were a debilitating after-war presence.
At the termination of the flagrant bomb-dropping and battlefield conflict in Iraq, we have some very strong leverage points as a movement. We can keep the momentum by working on what’s doable, like focusing internally on our own political pressure points and singling out people from our communities who helped to orchestrate the war and are complicit in maintaining the occupation of Iraq.
For example, the University of California students present at the gathering today have a powerful ally in the Middle East. Her name is Barbara Bodine, and she is the UC Alumni Regent and has been active in the UC Santa Barbara community. As a regent, she has influence over the UC’s oversight of the nuclear weapons program as well as being one of the central administrators in Iraq under newly-appointed Iraqi interim leader Jay Garner. The UC students are her constituents, and we should be able to find some important things to say to her and to lobby for. Where are the places where we can apply pressure here? The options range from importing technology necessary to determine if depleted uranium is present in the body, to ensuring that student exchanges are able to take place.
The young people of Iraq could possibly be our greatest concern in establishing a plan for the peace movement. In Iraq, 46% of the population is under age 16. What are their needs, and what is our accountability to them? Two wars and more than twelve years of sanctions later, policies enforced by our government have been met with unfailingcompliance by the American people who are ignorant of the experiences of average Iraqis. Our inaction and ignorance have helped to kill more than half a million kids in Iraq and imprison millions of others in the sequestered hell of a nation under sanctions. These kids have died because, quite frankly, they could not afford to live. The dinar devalued from 3.3 to 3,000 dinar to 1USD in the span of twelve years. Health care and education have become luxuries in a country where public welfare was once the envy of the Middle East.
In February when I was in Iraq for an international student gathering, I presented students and teachers with the Campus Antiwar Network statements as well as the antiwar resolutions from many other American college campuses. One gap that my presence was able to bridge is the gaping disparity of cross-cultural communication between Iraqi and American students. In early March, students from UC Santa Barbara participated in a radio dialogue with students from Baghdad University for nearly two hours. They spoke frankly about the pending war, as well as shared jokes, poetry and personal insights about philosophies on life.
As students, one of your most powerful platforms is making the connections between education and militarism, i.e. the need for funding schools and for teaching peace. Those of you who are called to be teachers should examine the vast amount of resources available to make educating for peace an integral classroom component. The military recruiters on campus should get no more access to students than is allowed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and certainly should be balanced with other peopleoffering careers with a conscience and peaceful alternatives to military service.
So what’s the big picture? We have our work cut out for us. I am grateful for your hard work and organizing to make this student antiwar conference happen, and it will be a long process. I hope you are in this for the long haul.
While I was in Hawaii, I had the time to look through a book of quotes I’ve compiled over the past few years. One in particular by June Jordan stood out to me because of its appropriateness: We are the people we’ve been waiting for.