Ever since Cindy Sheehan’s resignation last week, I’ve been waiting to find a thoughtful response to this small but potent paragraph in her resignation letter:
I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won’t work with that group; he won’t attend an event if she is going to be there; and why does Cindy Sheehan get all the attention anyway? It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions.
Lots of lefties are happy to join her in criticizing the Democrats or taking another shot at Republican hate mongering. But when will someone take a serious look at her criticisms of the peace movement. Conversations with activists both in the US and the United Kingdom over the last four years have made me very aware of the divisions and infighting she talks about.
Today a friend forwarded me the first article that begins to look at what’s wrong with the peace movement. It focuses on apathy and cynicism more than in-fighting, but its a start. In The Incredible Shrinking Antiwar Movement, Rex Huppke makes some convincing arguments as to why activism among our generation seems to be shrinking. Two in particular are worth noting.
First he points out that virtual communities have replaced the smoky coffee houses where many of the protests and actions of the 70’s were planned. This aside in particular hit awfully close to home:
Over the last few years, one of my consistent blogging patterns has been to read a story in the newspaper, get upset about it and then pound out an indignant blog post in response. While there’s something satisfying about publishing an articulate rant, does it just provide a false catharsis that distract us from taking meaningful action? Huppke quotes Rachel Einwohner, a Purdue University sociologist who studies protests and social movements:
“People can have these virtual online communities and have all these conversations online without ever coming together,” Einwohner said. “That might explain why we have this massive disapproval of the war, but we don’t see the visible public mass protest. Maybe all those folks who in another era might have been out on the streets, maybe they’re home sharing their ideas and opinions with their best blogging buddies.”
The second, and perhaps more important, factor that Huppke highlights is cynicism and belief that we can’t make any difference. I tend to agree with him wholeheartedly.
The theme of dealing with cynicism has come to the forefront for me since I heard Peter Dula speak on March 17 after the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq in Washington, D.C. He captured for me the way we our caught between complicity and guilt:
It is a sense of both helplessness and guilt. A sense that nothing we can do or say will make a difference. But that is combined with a feeling of complicity. Somehow it is our fault. One way to say it is that we are no longer enough of a democracy that the people feel empowered, but still enough of one that people feel responsible. (Bush has done to democracy what Calvin did to God.) That suggests another aspect of the feeling: a disgust with our fellow Americans for allowing to happen. If we blame ourselves we have to blame them. It isn’t just about pointing fingers at red-staters. This was, after all, a liberals’ war.
How can we deal with this crippling paradox? On the drive back to Chicago, a group of us were so inspired by Dula’s presentation that we decided we’d like to plan a symposium to look at the question more deeply. We’ve continued the planning process through the last two and a half months and have chosen the first weekend of November for a conference tentatively titled, “Owning Cynicism and Acting in Hope: Christian Discipleship in a Post-Democratic Society”. I hope to write more about the planning process later, but for now I’ll leave with you with this excerpt from our fund raising letter:
We will invite activists, theologians and members of our communities to lead workshops and reflect on their own successes and failures through the lens of cynicism and hope. We envision this conference as a resource for the many frustrated, justice-minded Christians who, like us, feel trapped by the current political situation but who long to be part of meaningful action for change.
Sound interesting? We’re looking for organizers, speakers, sponsors and participants! Email me if you’re interested in getting involved.