Sunday, September 23, 2012

Unholy Vigil

Friday's vigil at Percival Landing was unusual in that four people gave me the finger and two yelled, "fuck you!"  Something must have been in the air; we don't usually get much, if any hostility.  The occasional hostility is more than balanced by honks, V-signs, thumbs-up, waves and smiles--all manner of friendly gestures.  Still, I've always wondered what generates the hostility to people advocating for peace and nonviolence.  Here's a post I wrote while I in 2007.
To the Guy in the White Truck

You made a left turn from 16th Street on to Missouri in Phoenix yesterday morning between 7:15 and 8:15 in your big white pickup truck. I was standing on the southeast corner outside Senator John McCain’s office with about 10 others in a weekly vigil to remind Phoenix that our senator supports torture. I held the Veterans for Peace flag. A couple others were dressed in orange jumpsuits with hoods on their heads. The rest of our small group held signs calling for an end to torture and war in our name.

We must have posed quite a threat to you since you visibly and aggressively gave us the bird as you passed by. We returned your salute with smiles and peace signs. In the scheme of things our gestures as well as yours don’t amount to a hill of beans. But I wonder what provoked your hostile gesture, not the first I’ve seen in almost four years of standing on Phoenix streets as a witness against what I consider a terribly mistaken war that has cost this country so much.

Sure, you may disagree with me. That’s your right. You even have the right to argue against me. And, to a point, you can even demonstrate your opposition with words and gestures (I think legally the limit is where those words and gestures imply physical threat and intimidation but I’m relying on memory of a Constitutional law class I took in the mid-60's so I’m a bit fuzzy on the specifics). What I don’t understand is why you feel the need to display such hostility to a group of peaceful fellow citizens exercising their rights of free speech and petitioning a member of Congress.

Perhaps you are a veteran of the Iraq war or a relative of an Iraq veteran or service member currently at risk in Iraq and believe that our actions denigrate that service. You may still be suffering from losing a loved one in the war and think we dishonor that sacrifice. If so, you are terribly wrong. Serving in Iraq is not the issue. The issue is the order that sent you or your loved one into harm’s way. I believe that the commander-in-chief has dishonored that service by squandering it on a lie. And, believe me, I know what it feels like to serve in a dubious cause. It leaves a wound that doesn’t heal. That’s why I am standing on that corner.

Maybe you have no direct connection to the war and those who fight it. Instead you are a patriotic American who believes that we should all stand behind the commander-in-chief when the nation is at war. I respectfully disagree. In fact, for me that is exactly the time that we should ask “why” and use the critical thinking that characterizes our species to ensure that when the nation goes to war, that action is taken as a last resort in response to a dire threat to our national interests. War under any other circumstances is a profound disservice to those we send to kill in our name. I come to that way of thinking through experience. You may think otherwise for whatever reason. You have that right under the Constitution.

Even if we disagree, I am distressed that you consider me such a threat that you must respond to my actions with such hostility. Your one finger salute certainly displays a lack of tolerance of differing opinions. Many others who think like you simply give me a “thumbs down” as they pass. In doing so, they display their disagreement but don’t imply the same threat that I see in your upraised digit. With them I see at least a modicum of respect for a differing opinion. Not so in your case.

Please don’t think I’m singling you out. You certainly have company, including the well-coifed Republican woman in the sporty yellow mustang who flipped me off last summer as I and other protesters greeted people entering The Biltmore to hear Dick Cheney campaign for our US senator (not St. John McCain, the other one). I don’t think I’ve been on the street without catching a few birds from passersby. What I don’t understand is the hostility. I know I wouldn’t flip off Republicans or war supporters if I saw them. I believe in treating people as I would have them treat me so if I make any gesture I would turn my thumb down or hold my nose. More likely, I would just drive by.

It could be that I am being too intellectual about the whole thing. Maybe you’re just an asshole. But then I’d be thinking just like you.

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