From the Vault: More Victims Won’t Stop the Terror (10/2001)

Today is the ninth anniver­sary of the war in Afghanistan. In recog­ni­tion, here’s my Non​vi​o​lence​.org essay from 10/7/2010. It’s all sad­ly still top­i­cal. Nine years in and we’re still mak­ing ter­ror and still cre­at­ing enemies.

The Unit­ed States has today begun its war against ter­ror­ism in a very famil­iar way: by use of ter­ror. Igno­rant of thou­sands of years of vio­lence in the Mid­dle East, Pres­i­dent George W. Bush thinks that the hor­ror of Sep­tem­ber 11th can be exor­cised and pre­vent­ed by bombs and mis­siles. Today we can add more names to the long list of vic­tims of the ter­ror­ist air­plane attacks. Because today Afgha­nis have died in terror.

The deaths in New York City, Wash­ing­ton and Penn­syl­va­nia have shocked Amer­i­cans and right­ly so. We are all scared of our sud­den vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. We are all shocked at the lev­el of anger that led nine­teen sui­cide bombers to give up pre­cious life to start such a lit­er­al and sym­bol­ic con­fla­gra­tion. What they did was hor­ri­ble and with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. But that is not to say that they didn’t have reasons.

The ter­ror­ists com­mit­ted their atroc­i­ties because of a long list of griev­ances. They were shed­ding blood for blood, and we must under­stand that. Because to under­stand that is to under­stand that Pres­i­dent Bush is unleash­ing his own ter­ror cam­paign: that he is shed­ding more blood for more blood.

The Unit­ed States has been spon­sor­ing vio­lence in Afghanistan for over a gen­er­a­tion. Even before the Sovi­et inva­sion of that coun­try, the U.S. was sup­port­ing rad­i­cal Muja­hadeen forces. We thought then that spon­sor­ship of vio­lence would lead to some sort of peace. As we all know now, it did not. We’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with vio­lence in the region for many years. Our for­eign pol­i­cy has been a mish-mash of sup­port­ing one despot­ic régime after anoth­er against a shift­ing array of per­ceived enemies.

The Afghani forces the Unit­ed States now bomb were once our allies, as was Iraq’s Sad­dam Hus­sein. We have rarely if ever act­ed on behalf of lib­er­ty and democ­ra­cy in the region. We have time and again sold out our val­ues and thrown our sup­port behind the most heinous of despots. We have time and again thought that mil­i­tary adven­tur­ism in the region could keep ter­ror­ism and anti-Americanism in check. And each time we’ve only bred a new gen­er­a­tion of rad­i­cals, bent on revenge.

There are those who have angri­ly denounced paci­fists in the weeks since Sep­tem­ber 11th, angri­ly ask­ing how peace can deal with ter­ror­ists. What these crit­ics don’t under­stand is that wars don’t start when the bombs begin to explode. They begin years before, when the seeds of hatred are sewn. The times to stop this new war was ten and twen­ty years ago, when the U.S. broke it’s promis­es for democ­ra­cy, and act­ed in its own self-interest (and often on behalf of the inter­ests of our oil com­pa­nies) to keep the cycles of vio­lence going. The Unit­ed States made choic­es that helped keep the peo­ples of the Mid­dle East enslaved in despo­tism and poverty.

And so we come to 2001. And it’s time to stop a war. But it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly this war that we can stop. It’s the next one. And the ones after that. It’s time to stop com­bat ter­ror­ism with ter­ror. In the last few weeks the Unit­ed States has been mak­ing new alliances with coun­tries whose lead­ers sub­vert democ­ra­cy. We are giv­ing them free rein to con­tin­ue to sub­ject their peo­ple. Every weapon we sell these tyrants only kills and desta­bi­lizes more, just as every bomb we drop on Kab­ul feeds ter­ror more.

And most of all: we are mak­ing new vic­tims. Anoth­er gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren are see­ing their par­ents die, are see­ing the rain of bombs fall on their cities from an uncar­ing Amer­i­ca. They cry out to us in the name of peace and democ­ra­cy and hear noth­ing but hatred and blood. And some of them will respond by turn­ing against us in hatred. And will fight us in anger. They will learn our les­son of ter­ror and use it against us. They cycle will repeat. His­to­ry will con­tin­ue to turn, with blood as it’s Mid­dle East­ern lubri­cant. Unless we act. Unless we can stop the next war.

Remembering George Willoughby

There’s a nice remem­brance of George Willough­by by the Brandy­wine Peace Community’s Bob Smith over on the War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al site. George died a few days ago at the age of 95 [updat­ed]. It’s hard not to remem­ber his favorite quip as he and his wife Lil­lian cel­e­brat­ed their 80th birth­days: “twen­ty years to go!” Nei­ther of them made it to 100 but they cer­tain­ly lived fuller lives than the aver­age couple.

1
George in 2002, from War Resisters International

I don’t know enough of the details of their lives to write the obit­u­ary (a Wikipedia page was start­ed this morn­ing) but I will say they always seemed to me like the For­rest Gump’s of peace activism – at the cen­ter of every cool peace wit­ness since 1950. You squint to look at the pho­tos at there’s George and Lil, always there. Or maybe pop music would give us the bet­ter anal­o­gy: you know how there are entire b-rate bands that carve an entire career around end­less­ly rehash­ing a par­tic­u­lar Bea­t­les song? Well, there are whole activist orga­ni­za­tions that are built around par­tic­u­lar cam­paigns that the Willoughby’s cham­pi­oned. Like: in 1958 George was a crew mem­ber of the Gold­en Rule (pro­filed a bit here), a boat­load of crazy activists who sailed into a Pacif­ic nuclear bomb test to dis­rupt it. Twelve years lat­er some Van­cou­ver activists stage a copy­cat boat sail­ing which became Green­peace. Lil­lian was con­cerned about ris­ing vio­lence against women and start­ed one of the first Take Back the Nightmarch­es. If you’ve ever sat in an activist meet­ing where everyone’s using con­sen­sus, then you’ve been influ­enced by the Willoughby’s!

2
The Gold­en Rule, 1959, from the Swarth­more Peace Collection.

For many years I lived deeply embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties co-founded by the Willough­bys. There’s a recent inter­view with George Lakey about the found­ing of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety that he and they helped cre­ate. In the 1990s I liked to say how I lived “in its ruins,” work­ing at the pub­lish­ing house, liv­ing in a coop house and get­ting my food from the coop that all grew out of MNS. I got to know the Willough­bys through Cen­tral Philadel­phia meet­ing but also as friends. It was a treat to vis­it their house in Dept­ford, NJ — it adjoined a wildlife sanc­tu­ary they helped pro­tect against the strip-mall sprawl that is the rest of that town. I last saw George a few months ago, and while he had a bit of trou­ble remem­ber­ing who I was, that irre­press­ible smile and spir­it were very strong!

When news of George’s pass­ing start­ed buzzing around the net I got a nice email from Howard Clark, who’s been very involved with War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al for many years. It was a real blast-from-the-past and remind­ed me how lit­tle I’m involved with all this these days. The Philadel­phia office of New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers went under in 1995 and a few years ago I final­ly dropped the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project that I had start­ed to keep the orga­niz­ing going.

3
George at Fort Gulick in Pana­ma (undat­ed), also from Swarthmore.

I’ve writ­ten before that one of the clos­est modern-day suc­ces­sor to the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is the so-called New Monas­tic move­ment – explic­it­ly Chris­t­ian but focused on love and char­i­ty and often very Quaker’ish. Our cul­ture of sec­u­lar Quak­erism has kept Friends from get­ting involved and shar­ing our decades of expe­ri­ence. Now that Shane Clai­borne is being invit­ed to seem­ing­ly every lib­er­al Quak­er venue, maybe it’s a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to look back on our own lega­cy. Friends like George and Lil­lian helped invent this form.

I miss the strong sense of com­mu­ni­ty I once felt. Is there a way we can com­bine MNS & the “New Monas­tic” move­ment into some­thing explic­it­ly reli­gious and pub­lic that might help spread the good news of the Inward Christ and inspire a new wave of lefty peacenik activism more in line with Jesus’ teach­ings than the xeno­pho­bic crap that gets spewed by so many “Chris­t­ian” activists? With that, anoth­er plug for the work­shop Wess Daniels and I are doing in May at Pen­dle Hill: “New Monas­tics and Cov­er­gent Friends.” If money’s a prob­lem there’s still time to ask your meet­ing to help get you there. If that doesn’t work or dis­tance is a prob­lem, I’m sure we’ll be talk­ing about it more here in the com­ments and blogs.

2010 update: David Alpert post­ed a nice remem­brance of George.

August 2013 updates from the pages of Friends Jour­nal: The Gold­en Rule Shall Sail Again and Expand­ing Old Pine Farm.

Movement for a New Society and the Old New Monastics

Robin wrote a lit­tle about the New Monas­tic move­ment in a plug for the Pen­dle Hill work­shop I’m doing with Wess Daniels this Fall. 

Here’s my work­ing the­o­ry: I think Lib­er­al Friends have a good claim to invent­ing the “new monas­tic” move­ment thir­ty years ago in the form of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety, a net­work of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadel­phia that cod­i­fied a kind of “sec­u­lar Quak­er” decision-making process and trained thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that fea­tured low-cost com­mu­nal liv­ing arrange­ments in poor neigh­bor­hoods with part-time jobs that gave them flex­i­bil­i­ty to work as full-time com­mu­ni­ty activists. There are few activist cam­paigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS cul­ture sur­vives today in bor­der­line neigh­bor­hoods in Philadel­phia and oth­er cities. The high-profile new monas­tics rarely seem to give any props to Quak­ers or MNS, but I’d be will­ing to bet if you sat in on any of their meet­ings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fif­teen cen­tu­ry monas­tic rule that might be cited.

For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety.” The for­mal struc­ture of MNS had dis­band­ed but many of its insti­tu­tions car­ried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remain­ing pub­lish­ing house, New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neigh­bor­hood food coop and occa­sion­al­ly dropped in or helped out with Train­ing for Change, a revived train­ing cen­ter start­ed by MNS-co-founder (and Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neigh­bor­hood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb relat­ed move­ments with dif­fer­ent styles (e.g., a strong anar­chist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coin­ci­dence that some of the Philly emer­gent church projects start­ed in West Philly and is strong in the neigh­bor­hoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actu­al neigh­bor­hood has gentrified.

So some ques­tions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pen­dle Hill:

  • Why haven’t more of us in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends adopt­ed this engaged lifestyle?
  • Why haven’t we been good at artic­u­lat­ing it all this time?
  • Why did the for­mal struc­ture of the Quaker-ish “new monas­ti­cism” not sur­vive the 1980s?
  • Why don’t we have any younger lead­ers of the Quak­er monas­ti­cism? Why do we need oth­ers to remind us of our own recent tradition?
  • In what ways are some Friends (and some fel­low trav­el­ers) still liv­ing out the “Old New Monas­tic” expe­ri­ence, just with­out the hype and with­out the buzz?

It’s entire­ly pos­si­ble that the “new monas­ti­cism” isn’t sus­tain­able. At the very least Friends’ expe­ri­ences with it should be stud­ied to see what hap­pened. Is West Philly what the new monas­ti­cism looks like thir­ty years lat­er? The biggest dif­fer­ences between now and the hey­day of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is 1) the Internet’s abil­i­ty to orga­nize and stay in touch in com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent ways; and 2) the pow­er of the major Evan­gel­i­cal pub­lish­ing hous­es that are hyp­ing the new kids.

I’ll be look­ing at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I need­ed a change. I’m now in the “real world” – semi sub­ur­ban free­stand­ing house, nuclear fam­i­ly. The old new West Philly monas­ti­cism, like the “new monas­ti­cism” seems opti­mized for hip twenty-something sub­ur­ban kids who roman­ti­cized the grit­ty city. Peo­ple of oth­er demo­graph­ics often fit in, but still it was nev­er very scal­able and for many not very sus­tain­able. How do we bring these con­cerns out to a world where there are sub­urbs, fam­i­lies, etc?


RELATED READING: I first wrote about the sim­i­lar­i­ty between MNS and the Philadel­phia “New Monas­tic” move­ment six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pen­dle Hill should take a seri­ous look at this new movement.

The peace of Christ for those with ears to hear

Over on Quak­er Oats Live, Cherice is fired up about tax­es again and propos­ing a peace wit­ness for next year:

My solu­tion: Quak­ers, Men­non­ites, Brethren, and whomev­er else wants to par­tic­i­pate refus­es to pay war tax­es for a few years, and we suf­fer the con­se­quences. I think we should cam­paign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quak­er meet­ings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. com­mu­ni­ties. What are they going to do – throw us all in jail? Maybe. But they can’t do that for­ev­er. No one wants to pay their tax­es for a bunch of Quak­ers and oth­er paci­fists to sit in jail for not pay­ing tax­es. It doesn’t make sense.

A com­menter chimes in with a warn­ing about Friends who were hit by heavy tax penal­ties a quar­ter cen­tu­ry ago. But I know of some­one who didn’t pay tax­es for twen­ty years and recent­ly vol­un­teered the infor­ma­tion to the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. The col­lec­tors were non­cha­lant, polite and sym­pa­thet­ic and set­tled for a very rea­son­able amount. If this friend’s expe­ri­ence is any guide, there’s not much dra­ma to be had in war tax resis­tance. These days, Cae­sar doesn’t care much.

What if our wit­ness was direct­ed not at the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment but at our fel­low Chris­tians? We could fol­low Quak­er founder George Fox’s exam­ple and climb the tallest tree we could find (real or metaphor­i­cal) and begin preach­ing the good news that war goes against the teach­ings of Jesus. As always, we would be respect­ful and char­i­ta­ble but we could reclaim the strong and clear voic­es of those who have trav­eled before us. If we felt the need for back­up? Well, I under­stand there are twenty-seven or so books to the New Tes­ta­ment sym­pa­thet­ic to our cause. And I have every rea­son to believe that the Inward Christ is still hum­ming our tune and burn­ing bush­es for all who have eyes to see and ears to lis­ten. Just as John Wool­man min­is­tered with his co-religionists about the sin of slav­ery, maybe our job is to min­is­ter to our co-religionists about war.

But who are these co-religionist neigh­bors of ours? Twen­ty years of peace orga­niz­ing and Friends orga­niz­ing makes me doubt we could find any large group of “his­toric peace church” mem­bers to join us. We talk big and write pret­ty epis­tles, but few indi­vid­u­als engage in wit­ness­es that involve any dan­ger of real sac­ri­fice. The way most of our estab­lished bod­ies couldn’t fig­ure out how to respond to a mod­ern day prophet­ic Chris­t­ian wit­ness in Tom Fox’s kid­nap­ping is the norm. When the IRS threat­ened to put liens on Philadel­phia Year­ly Meet­ing to force resis­tant staffers to pay, the gen­er­al sec­re­tary and clerk said all sorts of sym­pa­thet­ic words of anguish (which they prob­a­bly even meant), then docked the employee’s pay any­way. There have been times when clear-eyed Chris­tians didn’t mind loos­ing their lib­er­ty or prop­er­ty in ser­vice to the gospel. Ear­ly Friends called our emu­la­tion of Christ’s sac­ri­fice the Lamb’s War, but even sev­en years of real war in the ancient land of Baby­lo­nia itself hasn’t brought back the old fire. Our meet­ing­hous­es sit quaint, with own­er­ship deeds untouched, even as we wring our hands won­der­ing why most remain half-empty on First Day morning.

But what about these emerg­ing church kids?: all those peo­ple read­ing Shane Clai­borne, mov­ing to neigh­bor­hoods in need, orga­niz­ing into small cells to talk late into the night about prim­i­tive Chris­tian­i­ty? Some of them are actu­al­ly putting down their can­dles and pre­ten­tious jar­gon long enough to read those twenty-seven books. Friends have a lot of accu­mu­lat­ed wis­dom about what it means the prim­i­tive Chris­t­ian life, even if we’re pret­ty rusty on its actu­al prac­tice. What shape would that wit­ness take and who would join us into that unknown but famil­iar desert? What would our move­ment even be called? And does it matter?

—–

Any­one inter­est­ed in think­ing more on this should start sav­ing up their loose change ($200 com­muters) to come join C Wess Daniels and me this Novem­ber when we lead a work­shop on “The New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” at Pen­dle Hill near Philadel­phia. Methinks I’m already start­ing to blog about it.

Sheehan thoughs over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org

Just a lit­tle note to every­one that I’ve blogged a cou­ple of posts over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org. They’re both based on “peace mom” Cindy Sheeran’s “res­ig­na­tion” from the peace move­ment yesterday.
It’s all a bit strange to see this from a long-time peace activist per­spec­tive. The move­ment that Sheehan’s talk­ing about and now cri­tiquing is not move­ment I’ve worked with for the last fifteen-plus years. The orga­ni­za­tions I’ve known have all been housed in crum­bling build­ings, with too-old car­pets and fur­ni­ture lift­ed as often as not from going out of busi­ness sales. Money’s tight and careers poten­tial­ly sac­ri­ficed to help build a world of shar­ing, car­ing and understanding.
The move­ment Shee­han talks about is fueled by mil­lions of dol­lars of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party-related mon­ey, with cam­paigns designed to mesh well with Par­ty goals via the so-called “527 groups”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/527_group and oth­er indi­rect mech­a­nisms. Big Media likes to crown these orga­ni­za­tions as _the_ anti­war move­ment, but as Shee­han and Amy Good­man dis­cuss in today’s “Democ­ra­cy Now interview”:http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07%2F05%2F30%2F1343232, cor­po­rate media will end up with much of the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars can­di­dates are now rais­ing. Shee­han makes an impas­sioned plea for peo­ple to sup­port those grass­roots cam­paigns that aren’t sup­port­ed by the “peace move­ment” but this rein­forces the notion that its the mon­eyed inter­ests that make up the move­ment. I’m sure she knows bet­ter but it’s hard to work for so long and to make so many sac­ri­fices and still be so casu­al­ly dis­missed – not just me but thou­sands of com­mit­ted activists I’ve known over the years.
There are a few peace orga­ni­za­tions in that hap­py medi­um between toad­y­ing and pover­ty (nice car­pets, souls still intact) but it mys­ti­fies me why there isn’t a broad­er base of sup­port for grass­roots activism. I myself decid­ed to leave pro­fes­sion­al peace work almost a decade ago after the my Non​vi​o​lence​.org project raised such piti­ful sums. At some point I decid­ed to stop whin­ing about this phe­nom­e­non and just look for better-paying employ­ment else­where but it still fas­ci­nates me from a soci­o­log­i­cal perspective.

On shoestrings and keepin’ on

There's some interesting follow-up on the Cindy Sheehan "resignation" (see yesterday's post). One fellow I corresponded with years ago gave a donation then sent an email urging us not to fall into despair. It's hard.
Go beyond Democratic Party fronts like MoveOne and you'll find the most of the peace movement is a ridiculously shoestring operation. Nonviolence.org's four month "ChipIn" fundraising campaign raised $50 per month but the sacrifice isn't just short-term--just try applying for a mainstream job with a resume chock full of social change work!
Michael Westmoreland-White over on the Levellers blog talks about "keeping going through the despair":http://levellers.wordpress.com/2007/05/30/needed-for-long-haul-peacemaking-a-spirituality-of-nonviolence/:
bq. This is a cautionary tale for the rest of us, including myself. Outrage, righteous indignation, anger, public grief, are all valid reactions to war and human rights abuses, but they will get us only so far. They may strain marriages and family life. They may lead to speech and action that is not in the spirit of nonviolence and active peacemaking. And, since imperialist militarism is a system (biblically speaking, a Power), it will resist change for the good. Work for justice and peace over the long haul requires spiritual discipline, requires deep roots in a spirituality of nonviolence, including cultivating the virtue of patience.
Michael's answer is specifically Christian but I think his advice to step back and attend to the roots of our activism is wise despite one's motivations.
Sheehan's retirement didn't stop her from "talking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now this morning":http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/30/1343232. She talks about cash-starved peace activists and contrasts them with the tens of millions presidential candidates are raising, most of which will go to big media TV networks for ads. Sheehan says we need more than just an antiwar movement:
bq. Like, ending the Vietnam War was major, but people left the movement. It was an antiwar movement. They didn’t stay committed to true and lasting peace. And that’s what we really have to do.
More Cindy Sheehan reading across the blogosphere available via "Google":http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&q=cindy+sheehan&btnG=Search+Blogs and "Technorati":http://technorati.com/tag/cindy+sheehan.
And for those looking for a little good news check out the brand new site for the "Global Network for Nonviolence":http://gn-nonviolence.org/. I designed it for them as part of my "freelance design work":http://www.martinkelley.com but it's been a joy and a lot of fun to be working more closely with a good group of international activists again. Their "nonviolence links":http://gn-nonviolence.org/links.php page includes sites for some really committed grassroots peacemakers. This long-term peace work may not give us headlines in the New York Times but it's touched millions over the years. If humanity is ever going to grow into the kind of culture of peace Sheehan dreams of then we'll need a lot more wonderful projects like these.