I consider myself an antiwar activist. I'm for peace. I don't like violence. That said, I don't cotton much to a lot of the peace activism that's being done out there.
The activism I have a problem with is ideological instead of practical. Instead of dealing with concrete steps for opposing war and supporting peace, this sort of activism tries to get people to change their psychology, with the message that peace begins within the heart. It claims that there will not be peace in the world until we all have peace in the minds of the people of the world. So, the kind of solutions offered by this sort of activism are not really solutions so much as they are personal therapy.
It's a sweet message, and inspiring, but in practical terms, it's just not effective. The organizations that promote war certainly don't work in this way. The military and its boosters don't content themselves with just asking people to meditate, and to change the way that they feel. They search out the sources of practical power and exploit them.
Last month, I saw a group of high school students out on the front lawn of our local school, sitting around chatting amidst a bunch of pinwheels they had put in the grass. It was part of the international Pinwheels For Peace project, which encourages people to support world peace by painting pinwheels.
How does painting pinwheels support the cause of peace in the world? It doesn't, really. It makes people feel nice, if they like pinwheels, but that's it. The idea behind the project is that if enough people feel nice, war will stop. I don't see any signs of that plan working.
Another example of this therapeutic, self-centered kind of peace activism comes from a web site calling itself Johnny Peaceeseed. It's a nice web site, and I don't have anything against a web site being nice, but does the web site really provide a solid basis for peace activism? I don't think so. Here, for example, is the site's list of "Eight things you can do:"
1. Open your mind through meditation or through other means to cleanse the incessant howl of propaganda, hate and fear from your consciousness. You don't have to love your enemies, but don't hate them either. Until you do this, all your efforts will be unsuccessful.
3. [sic] Let go of the idea of property and its hold on you. Let go of patriotism. Let go of capitalism. Let go of America. Let go of all belief. These are all traps designed to ensnare you. Instead, come to rely on your instincts, your intuition and your intelligence.
2. [sic] After you have cleansed your mind, speak out, without equivocation, about the truth in your heart.
4. Educate yourself and others about America.
5. Practice civil disobedience when the state places its needs over the rights of the citizenry.
6. Stand up to injustice, hypocrisy, and corruption wherever you find it. You will find a way.
7. Don't hope for miracles. Don't expect the ignorant (and proud of it) masses to rise up. Don't think you can convince a single member of the elite to give up their ill gotten gains. Instead, work on the above as if your life depended on it.
8. Humans don't always make the wrong choices. Some societies are peaceful and sustainable. Some people who are not sheep are also not wolves. Find them and work with them.
What can I make of this list? What exactly is it that I'm supposed to do? I don't think that we have the time to make ourselves internally pure before we confront the reality of war. I'm not one of those who is willing to accept that it will be impossible to put an end to war unless human beings perfect themselves through meditation first.
Cleansing consciousness, letting go of ideas and beliefs, and speaking the "truth" as felt in the heart might feel good for the people who do it, but it doesn't accomplish anything other than that sense of personal fulfillment.
Go ahead and meditate if you want. Make a pinwheel. Think about cleansing your mind. Fine. Just don't confuse that with with truly working for peace. Certainly don't count it as a form of antiwar activism. Your activism will need to be separate from your self-help.
When I read the list above, I was struck by how very unspecific it was. There are no real things to do on this list, other than to purify the self and hope that ideas for specific action come about as a result.
Those of us who support peace need to be smart and practical. In order to help, I have created a more specific list of eight practical things you can do to suport peace and bring an end to war:1. Write a letter to one of your members of Congress with an antiwar message