March 20 2008
March 19, 2008, 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War - Living Sign of Non-Violence, Bowling Green, New York City
A little over five years ago millions of people around the world came out to protest the impending invasion of Iraq, expressing our outrage at what we knew would be a human disaster. Our protests were ignored and now the majority has come around to seeing things more or less this way. We were right, and not because of the cost — although that’s obscene given the desperate needs of people — but because it’s wrong to attack innocent people, and because violence doesn’t resolve anything. It only leads to more violence.
Five years later, the death and destruction continue and now a majority of Americans want this madness to end. Yet it continues, revealing clearly that we don’t live in a real democracy. In a real democracy, the people decide. This is not a war waged by the people of the United States, although a lot of people supported it. It’s certainly not a war that is in the best interests of the people of the United States. It hasn’t made us safer, quite the opposite. It has made our country a pariah in the world and has enriched Halliburton executives – sticking the rest of us with the bill. This invasion has been waged by a very small minority with a virtual monopoly on economic and political power, and the collaboration of the mass media; a very small minority who wage war to defend and promote their interests. It’s radically immoral, in fact it’s monstrous, but that’s the situation.
Many years ago Gandhi said: “What is obtained with violence can only be maintained with violence.” This insight has great relevance today because physical violence is not only a tool for advancing the interests of the powerful; it’s also the end result of a whole structure of economic, racial, cultural, religious and generational violence that poisons daily existence all over the world. It is violence when children die of starvation while there is enough for everyone. It is violence when peoples’ land is stolen or made uninhabitable by pollution. It is violence when the pubic airwaves — owned by the people — are crammed with dehumanizing messages pushing every product and every lie imaginable, while the people remain uninformed about the most urgent questions affecting our future, our security.
How can we overcome the violence? It’s not just a theoretical question, it’s a vital question because the probability of catastrophic nuclear war is growing every day. The need to change the course of history is urgent and this affects us all, rich and poor, left and right, Muslim and Christian and Jew. How can we overcome the violence?
Maybe first by recognizing our true power and possibilities and helping others to do the same. Because those who want peace far outnumber the violent ones but they don’t express it. In the Czech Republic, where the US wants to build a military radar base as part of a new missile system and a plan to put weapons in space, 70% of the Czech people oppose it but the government goes ahead. If even 10% of those would act on their opposition things would change very quickly. But they don’t — so far…
This leads us to ask questions about our own activism, and our own beliefs. How can we become more effective? How can we adapt our militancy to the new times? How can we gain more depth and conviction? How can we overcome our fears? Because even small fears can stop us, the fear of looking foolish or being misunderstood. The fear of failure… And how can we reach others on a massive scale? Because real change, the change we want, will only be possible when a critical mass of the population become conscious of their possibilities and begin to exercise them. The system can’t withstand this because the system is only sustained by the cooperation of the majority.
Tonight we build a new sign of nonviolence, leaving behind our old friend the peace sign and launching an aspiration toward the future, a future that will only be possible when nonviolence becomes rooted in the human spirit so deeply that it informs every aspect of our existence. Because ending the war is important but it is not enough. If we could wave a magic wand and end all hostilities tomorrow it would be a great blessing but, leaving everything else in place, it would not be nearly enough.
In 2005, Silo, the founder of our movement said: At some moments in history an outcry arises, a heartrending call from individuals and from entire nations. Then, from the Profound a signal arrives. May this signal be translated with kindness in these times, may it be translated in order to overcome pain and suffering—for behind this signal are blowing the winds of great change.
The sign of nonviolence expresses our conviction that nonviolence is the only exit from the growing crisis. A crisis that history and the absurdities of the system are generating; a crisis that will reach us all. It also expresses our profound aspiration for a new world, a just world, a world where everyone has the same chance in life, a human world. And as we build this sign together, we call for a deep change in our hearts, in our minds – and of course in our actions.