All last week I had a rare opportunity — to join several impressive speakers on the “Bring Them Home Now” tour’s northern route. Al Zappala, whose son was killed in Iraq last year; Tammara Rosenleaf, whose husband is due to deploy to Iraq this fall; Stacy Bannerman, whose husband has already served a tour in Iraq; Carlos Arredondo, whose son was killed during a second tour in Iraq; Elliott Adams, former Army paratrooper in Viet Nam; and two Iraq war veterans: former Marine, Michael Hoffman, and Cody Camacho, former Army Specialist.
At each stop I was with them — Detroit, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Amherst, and Boston — we explained what motivated us to be on the tour. We condemned the war and ongoing occupation. We urged people to attend the massive demonstrations planned for September 24-26 in Washington, D.C.
In each city I saved part of my five minutes to go beyond urging participation in the march and rally on the 24th, and plead for people to consider participating in the civil disobedience planned for the 26th as well. This quote from Howard Zinn was particularly well-received.
Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders . . . and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves . . . (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.
In Detroit and Buffalo, two cities bordering Canada on opposite ends of Lake Erie, it was easy to draw a historical connection to civil disobedience. Both cities had a significant role in the Underground Railroad, an activity in direct violation of the Fugitive Slave Act which required the return of runaway “property” in the form of human beings. I explained that the period just before the Civil War also saw the emergence of spontaneous acts of civil disobedience among citizens opposed to slavery, such as what happened when the people of Urbana, Ohio freed an escaped slave from the custody of federal marshals and sent the marshals packing.
As I was speaking in Albany, however, I was struck by a bolt out of the blue.
If nonviolent direct action is the most powerful tool we have to stop this war, what is the best time to exercise it? When a few hundred people surround the White House on September 26 for an orchestrated civil disobedience activity, or when a half-million (and more) people are in the streets September 24?
We have witnessed people in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union take to the streets and nonviolently stay there to get rid of governments which they thought had ceased serving the public good — and we’ve applauded their courage.
Every July, we applaud the signers of the Declaration of Independence for affirming that:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government. . . .
Today’s King George is busy handing out thousands of death sentences to our family members in America, and to many more of our family members in Iraq. Can we ignore Saturday’s singular opportunity to say “ENOUGH!”? Are we so attached to comfort and convenience that all we can muster is to march for a few hours, listen to some speakers, and go back home to watch the war on television? Or will we decide to use our power when we actually have it? How many people sitting in the streets of Washington for how many days would it take to stop the madness in Iraq? What better time to be outdoors in our capital than late September?
As those thoughts turned into speech in Albany, I realized I was proposing something beyond the official program for this weekend’s protest, and beyond what some people might be prepared to do on September 24. I knew a clear, concise call would be needed to explain the idea. It came to me in a flash: “Brothers and sisters, this request is not part of the official program. If you came to Washington for a legal march, please keep walking. If you came to Washington to stop the war, PLEASE SIT DOWN!”
Listen for those words in Washington on Saturday.