Looking for Peace in the Peace Movement

By boona cheema, Berkeley Daily Planet, May 5, 2006

Los Angeles, USA -- At no other time has a movement for global peace become so crucial. And this movement has no place for hate, anger, or abuse. To cease all hostilities we the members of the movement need to make a commitment to peaceful language and peaceful assembly. Without this action we cannot grow - and we cannot win.

I first marched for peace in 1969 in Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, following a contingent of Buddhist nuns and monks. We carried no signs, chanted no chants, and peacefully got arrested. As time has passed and my commitment to peace has deepened I find it extremely painful to attend “peace” marches now.

What I find most alarming is the language used by many speakers, including celebrities, politicians, musicians, and poets, at rallies, marches, and so-called peace gatherings. Speeches full of hate, anger, and aggression, including slogans of death to the people we do not agree with, have no place in creating peace. Surely we can present arguments against war, violence, famine, and disease without calling for the death of a politician. We must, so that the children we drag along to these often festive occasions, where we meet friends and allies, can safely listen and learn. There is enough violent language in their lives, and to hear it at a march for peace is an attack on their sensitivities—we can hardly hope to grow peacefulness in them with our own inability to be peaceful.

Contributions to peace are built upon innate goodness. Deep inside we must recognize that while we are different from those who go to and support war, different from those who let HIV/AIDS and hunger continue unchecked and who commit the genocide of African and other peoples of color, we are complicit in that arrogance by couching our expressions of protest in a language of fear and hatred, a language that lets our opposition point to our hypocrisy and makes some people of peace feel unable to participate in a movement that cultivates as much aggression as the events and policies we are striving to oppose.

Let’s step back for a moment and remember that even though we have tried to learn from the peace movement’s hostility towards Vietnam soldiers and now wear buttons that say “Hate the War, Love the Soldier,” the returning limbless warriors from Iraq will be just as confused as my brothers from Vietnam when there are no resources for them. Let’s step back and appreciate the organizing abilities of the right wing and fanatics across the globe, and deal with our inability to fight war with peace.

Those of us who are exhausted from a culture of violence need a new commitment, a voice that creates hope and not fear. We Democrats, Greens, Republicans, and members of all political parties who want peace have no single voice we can rally around, no leadership that has evolved beyond the use of words that terrify. Even in the speeches of the most committed peacemakers attack and aggression toward warmongers slips in. We need those leaders who fear politics but have the skills to lead us to a better world to step forward, in every village, every city, every faith and religion. We need to find those who cannot support conflict in one region and peace in another and surround them with a movement that is truly based on basic principles of respect, and nonviolence.

We can transform the world with the intention to shift completely from violence to peace, but we must practice this intention in all realms of our lives—in our families, in our communities, and in our peace rallies. As always, today is the best day to begin.

boona cheema has been a peace activist for over 35 years. Originally from India, she volunteered with wounded children in Vietnam before moving to the U.S. where she now runs a nonprofit human service organization for the homeless and mentally ill.