Friday, June 12, 2009

A more positive anniversary

Larry E has the goods:
I could not let today pass without noting that it is the 27th anniversary of the largest peace demonstration in US history, when somewhere between 750,000 and 1 million people gathered in Central Park in New York City to call for an end to the nuclear arms race.

No, the movement did not achieve its goal; the danger of nuclear weapons is still with us, only now it's tucked away out of our awareness except when a little fear-mongering about Iran and/or North Korea seems useful. But still, this was a campaign that did more than move mountains, it moved nations, altered the policies of governments, and changed forever the image of nukes from "protection" to "risk."

Looking back on it, I'm struck by two things: One is the energy, the verve, the yes excitement that stands in such contrast to the jacket-and-tie mien of so many of the leading voices of the "movement" (the quotes are deliberate) today, who seem to regard such hairy, chaotic, "still crazy after all these years" actions as pointless and icky even though they are precisely the kinds of things that pried open the gates to the halls of power through which they have passed to exert their supposed but largely symbolic influence.

The other is the real sense of hope that drove the whole thing. Sure, there was a fear of nuclear war involved, but fear is a paralyzing emotion, not an energizing one. I remember the story of a teacher at the time who asked a class if they were afraid of a nuclear war. Every student raised their hand except one girl. When the teacher asked her why she wasn't afraid, she said "Because my mommy and daddy go to meetings to keep it from happening." The hope drives out the fear.
I was a teen at the time. A few months after that demo, sometime in the spring of 1983, my high school would have a teach-in on nuclear war. It too was based on hope - that is the hope that my age group would become educated enough to do something to reduce the number of nukes on the planet.

When one considers the context in which the anti-nuclear war protest of 1982 occurred, it appeared to be a pretty scary time. The basic fear at the time was of a nuclear war between the US and USSR - a fear fed with generous doses of propaganda and in Christianist circles by a profitable cottage industry of apocalyptic-themed books and audiotapes. There was also concern that El Salvador or Nicaragua would be my generation's Vietnam, given that there had been some effort to bang the war drums in response to the Sandinistas' recent victory in Nicaragua and the FMLN's insurgency in El Salvador. The US government managed to wage a war by proxy in that region instead, and the next Vietnam would have to await the present decade.

Back to Larry:
In my very first post here, over 51/2 years ago, I quoted myself as having told a friend "The truth is, my hope is nearly gone. My anger is the only thing that keeps me going." In the intervening time, I've realized that's not entirely true. The anger feeds the awareness of injustice and fuels the wording, but it's the hope that keeps the flame alive, generates the heat in which righteous anger can dwell, and it's the times when the hope is at a low ebb that the fire is coolest and thus the drive is the weakest.

So today, I'd like everyone to look back (or, for the grayer among us, think back) twenty-seven years and take some pleasure and some encouragement in seeing and sensing what hope - hope based in ideas and ideals, not merely elections - looks and feels like.
Something to think about as we make our way through this current bleak time.

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