Any Army, 1984 Tom Ferguson, oil on canvas (detail)
“Surveying aspects of the past – slavery, child labor, oppression of women and workers, war, colonialism, environmental degradation, corruption, nepotism, racism, oligarchy, patriarchy, fascism – one can hardly ignore the injustice of one’s own time and Standing For Peace is one avenue of resistance.”
The above quote came from an activist when asked why she joins the weekly Stand For Peace at 14th and Peachtree in Atlanta, Fridays noon to 1pm. The tenth anniversary of the Stand was celebrated Friday August 24th. The Stand began when members of Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition (GPJC) attempted to meet with Senator Zell Miller, whose office in Colony Square overlooked the corner there. Their purpose was to dissuade him from voting for the invasion of Iraq. Instead of meeting with his constituents the good senator had them arrested when they refused to leave without a meeting. He of course supported the war and was in fact famous, or infamous, as a Democrat, in speaking at the Republican convention in support of the reigning Bush/Cheney clique. His speech was noticeably nutty though, embarrassing even the oligarchs who were exploiting him.
Deciding to Stand For Peace at that corner until the war ended, the initial reception given the anti-war activists from passing traffic was quite hostile. Stereotypical hardhat-types drove by in their pickups holding forth the universal sign of disapproval, “Half a peace sign” one of the standers liked to quip.
Varying degrees of polite conversations were had with the lunch-time foot traffic, sometimes involving raised voices, usually from the “pro-war” factions. One of the standers was proud of his status as a veteran, and dissenter, of the Vietnam War and usually waved a large U.S. flag, determined to reclaim from the chickenhawks this symbol of freedom (a surprising number of the most enthusiastic warbackers in the Bush administration had avoided the opportunity to serve in the Vietnam war, including Bush himself, Cheney and many others). A shout from a passing vehicle, “Support the president!” was immediately met by this vet with an incisive, “Support the Constitution!” A hard hat stopped at the light and mocked the protestors. Someone pointed out that he was driving a gas guzzler, bringing obliquely into the discussion the prime motivation for the war, oil. “I can afford it.”, responded the driver, missing the point completely, unknowingly advancing the anti-war position. Apparently the three ‘R’s from the first Earth Day, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, had not yet reached the owner of the obscene hummer. Another passerby insisted that, in response to 911, “We’ve got to kick butt.” The analogy apparently fell on deaf ears, that when someone commits a crime we don’t bomb their neighborhood we go after the culprit, and that, unfortunately, not all culprits can be caught and brought to justice. Kicking the butts of people totally unassociated with the 911 attack, rather than exacting revenge is itself a further injustice. This passerby insisted, rather than admit to logical inconsistency, that the neighborhood bombing would be perfectly appropriate. They bombed us, therefore we can bomb them. To tweak an old saying, logic is the first casualty of war. The Hatfields and the McCoys are alive and well, and still killing each other.
An interesting footnote: black citizens were early on generally far more supportive, way ahead of their white counterparts. Dylan’s line from his song about Joey Gallo’s imprisonment comes to mind,
“His best friends were black men ‘cause they seemed to understand,
what it’s like to be in society, with a shackle on your hand.”
Gradually, over time, the ratio of support to opposition reversed so that during the tenth anniversary gathering speakers had a hard time being heard above the “honking for peace” coming from Peachtree Street. In contrast to Zell Miller’s calling in the police, Representative John Lewis emotionally renewed his pledge that, “I will not vote one dime for the war machine!” Would that this view were more prevalent in our corporate-owned and ideologically skewered congress. Joseph Lowery also spoke, with the contagious good humor that he brought to his appearance at Obama’s inauguration and with the authority this ethical man, who has opposed injustice with a consistent and courageous vigor, brings to every issue he encounters. The presence of these stellar civil rights heroes was felt as a huge compliment by the veteran standers.
The Stand For Peace continues Fridays at noon, many of the participants in a quandary of supporting as the lesser of two evils the current administration which, though having moved to end the involvement in Iraq (the illegal involvement), inexplicably continues a senseless war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history, and pursues Wikileak’s Julian Assange and the patriot soldier Bradley Manning, while allowing war criminals from the previous administration to skate free. The close-knit by now Stand For Peace activists, after the Stand, usually adjourn to the Colony Square food court for continued discussion of the issues of our day, over lunch. WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions, Georgia), overseen by the inestimable Bobbie Paul, is the primary standard bearer of the Friday action these days who of course invite other concerned citizens to join them.