Saturday, March 22, 2003

Three hundred people gathered in front of the Federal Building in downtown Kalamazoo yesterday at rush hour, in peaceful opposition to the Iraq war. We were in our teens, twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies. We were grandmothers and students and veterans. We were working-class and professional and retired people, office workers and academics, neatly dressed and rumpled, religious and skeptical, Democrats and Republicans and Greens. Many of the people carrying antiwar signs were also waving American flags.

The commuters of Kalamazoo responded by the dozens -- perhaps by the hundreds -- by honking, by waving the two-fingered peace sign out their windows, by cheering. At least three truck drivers cheered us from their big rigs. I counted exactly three hecklers in forty-five minutes.

Afterwards, we moved on to a downtown church. Prayers were read by Protestants and Catholics and Quakers, by Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and Hindus and Buddhists. A rabbi grieved with a Presbyterian minister. Atheists and agnostics lit candles. A Quaker activist hugged a sobbing Pakistani-American lady. College students talked to middle-aged military veterans about war and peace.

There's no way to describe this experience except to be there, no way to believe it except to see and hear it. I'm firmly convinced that opposition to, or at least skepticism about, this war is part of the mainstream, and in no way marginal. I have no personal quarrel with people who feel that as a matter of conscience they must support this war. They include some of my friends. I have no doubts at all about the bravery and commitment of soldiers. But the rhetoric about "supporting the troops" is a red herring, craftily designed to embarrass people of good conscience out of dissent. Soldiers don't start wars. They are required to do what they are told. None of us want them maimed or killed. My father and uncles weren't responsible for World War II. Neither was my friend's German grandfather, compelled against his own conscience to fight in Hitler's army.

I'm amazed by the outpouring of support by people whose consciences are rattled by the spectacle of mass bombing of cities of already-suffering people. I repeat: We're your grandparents and grandchildren. We're your boss and your employee, your teacher and your student. We care about what happens in this country, to the human species, and to the planet. We're a great big chunk of the mainstream, and we're worried as all hell.

Soldiers can and will achieve military objectives at great risk to themselves, but they can't make the world either safe or free. Only citizens can do those things, one small piece at a time.


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