The Divine that Exists In the Resistance

Update: I had this essay posted by Common Dreams:

I have a benefit tonight that I am speaking at in support of Palestine. In the toast I am to give, I will reference other struggles against oppression and occupation, particularly those resistance struggles that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to stand with in solidarity this past year: in Okinawa, at Standing Rock and in Palestine.

For someone like me, who had professionally studied war and insurgencies for years, and then executed such knowledge on behalf of the US government in support of the occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, being on the other side of the rifle was heartbreaking and difficult, as seeing the military and police enforcing the racist occupations, political oppression and environmental destruction was a mirror held up to me, reflecting my own past, my own mistakes, my own collaboration with greed, hate and subjugation. Being allowed the opportunity to stand with these resistance movements was rewarding and it was healing, as it was a form of recovery for my moral injury and guilt from the wars. I can never undo or repair what I took part in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I can, going forward in my life, live a life working with others for peace and justice, both at home and abroad.

Veterans For Peace members march in Hebron, Occupied West Bank, February 2016. Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace
Members of Veterans For Peace and Palestinian Youth Against Settlements leader Issa Amro intercede with the Israeli police and military to stop firing in Hebron, Occupied West Bank, February 2017. Photo credit: Sabah Media

The commonness and similarities that exist between these resistance movements are many: a firm belief in and understanding of non-violence; the use of music and song; and the graciousness and openness to outsiders, like myself and other white veterans of the American military whose relationship to the occupation forces and powers cannot be ignored or dismissed, but are understood as the actions of the colonial and imperial powers and not the actions, will or soul of the individual soldier, or Marine in my case.

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Veterans For Peace members and Okinawan resistance members block the road in Okinawa to protect the Yanbaru forest from US military construction, September 2016. Photo credit: Mike Hastie, Veterans For Peace.
Members of Veterans For Peace and Okinawan resistance members resisting attempts by Japanese police to move them as they protect the Yanbaru forest from US military construction, September 2016. Photo credit: Mike Hastie, Veterans For Peace

There is also something that runs very deep, is very true, and that exists within all these resistance movements. Something prime and underlining, a force that is infinite and enduring is the intangible reality that exists in all of the men, women and children who are struggling for their society’s freedom, for the preservation of their land, water and air, and for the chance for their children and grandchildren to live lives not held in obeyance to the guns and violence of a foreign, abusive and repressive power. I have no other choice for my description of what I witnessed and stood among than to use the word divine to explain what it is that moves, sustains and carries forward these movements and people. Words like justice, peace, freedom, and safety have their well deserved places as descriptions of what these movements strive for, but it is the word divine that I come back to when I think of what it is which motivates, maintains and upholds these movements and what it is that links them together across continents, religions and races, and, ultimately, time.

Police start to move on the people in the tipi.
Tarak Kauff and Matthew Hoh of Veterans For Peace participate in a non-violent action with Native American water protectors to block construction of the DAPL pipeline, October 2016. Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace
Tarak gets up.
Veterans For Peace members Matthew Hoh and Tarak Kauff are arrested along with Native American water protectors while conducting a non violent action to block the DAPL pipeline, October 2016.  Photo credit: Ellen Davidson, Veterans For Peace.

I saw this again in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, where myself and other white allies escorted black students from Howard University through the city streets. There was something divine, again a better word I stumble trying to find, behind the purposes of those students from Howard, a very existent and timeless connection to something beyond the human experience that animates our desires for truth, justice, equality and peace. This force, this beyond-human force, ties together these movements now, and ties them to the movements of the past, to their ancestors who suffered and were persecuted in their struggles of liberation, fights for peace, and marches for equality, whether there be a direct lineage of descent to those ancestors or an ancestry consisting of purpose and principle removed by epochs of historical and geographic separation.

I’m an intellectual, logical and rational atheist a good 6 1/2 days a week, but what I experienced in Okinawa, Standing Rock, Palestine and Charlottesville these past twelve months moved me with a force much greater than any and all of the spirited nationalist formulations or conceptions of brotherhood I ever encountered or beheld in my time as a Marine or while working for the US government. This force, this divine presence, cannot be discounted, diminished or dismissed, but is as factual and proven to me in its effect and purpose as any rifle I ever held, any money I was ever paid, or any exceptionalist American myth I ever consumed.

It is why anyone who has taken part in these movements can receive healing from their own sins in war, as I have; it is why even those who have been silenced by jailing or with bullets and bombs have never truly been defeated – lost to us with great sorrow and grief, yes, of course – but not defeated; and it is why these movements will ultimately be successful, because the divine that is the foundation of these movements and these people cannot be extinguished, cannot be undone, bought or quieted, as this spirit will always carry forward this generation and subsequent ones.

To see and understand some of the divine involvement that is present in the people of Palestine and the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement, please watch Chris Smiley’s latest video of the Veterans For Peace delegation I participated in to Palestine earlier this year.

Wage Peace.

Stop Calling Them Nazis

UPDATE:  If you would like to donate to help those men and women who brought down the statue of the Confederate soldier in Durham with legal costs you can donate here: Durham Solidarity Center

These men and women are Americans. Nazis were Germans. Call them what they are in Charlottesville: White Supremacists, Klansmen, Confederates, Racists. When we call them Nazis, we associate them with the Other, we disassociate them from ourselves, from the United States, from our laws and from our history. It may be easier for some to use the word Nazi, it may ring more loudly and play more dramatically, particularly for the media, but the truth is these are our people, we need to own them, particularly white people, and so we must call them by the names of who and what they are and not give them names that make it easier for us to distance and disassociate ourselves.

If I use the word Nazi, I am protecting myself and those in my white American community, because the word is narrow and strictly defined; it’s limited, it’s grotesque, it’s hard for me to think of anyone I know whom I am related to by blood or by affection that I could fit into such a characterization, into such a costume. But, if I use a word other than Nazi, something broader, something more open, something more familiar, something more American, now I can think of people I know.

It is my fellow white brothers and sisters who have used the words and phrases that underline and validate the 60 million strong Trump movement that doesn’t just step and march underneath the banner of racism, but also beneath the flags of misogyny, homophobia and nationalism. The riposte from them will be that those historical elements and those openly racist personas apply to the fringes of the 60 million, because those I know who chose to vote for Trump did so because of tax cuts and jobs, want a wall because of jobs, want to privatize schools to allow for better economic competition etc, etc, etc… Ah, but of course…However, it is now necessary to quote the horribly influential, maniacally capable, and devilishly intelligent Lee Atwater, the man behind Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, a man who would not even be 70 years old today if he were still alive; imagine what Lee Atwater’s role would have been over the last 26 years if he had not died when he was 40? You think Karl Rove was bad? Karl Rove was an ersatz Lee Atwater for George Bush the Younger…

Lee Atwater explaining the Republican Southern Strategy, as quoted by Alexander Lamis in 1981:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”’

What it takes to defeat those marching in torchlight in Charlottesville, who are not the descendants of those of the Nuremberg rallies, but rather are American men and women walking in the steps of and with the purposes of those who committed the atrocities of the slave plantations and the Native American reservations, is to stand like those who opposed the Confederates, the Klansmen, and the Racists in Charlottesville. More so, it is to go beyond that and to speak with those who are carrying those torches, again particularly those of us who are white, in order to get them to extinguish the flames on the torches. Best would be to speak with these men and women to convince them that there is a better path to walk and that there is a community to join that does not require the carrying of torches, a community that does not have a history of hate, exclusion, and genocide, and that there is a community that fights, that marches, and that sacrifices to achieve and maintain true freedom and equality for all people.

To go farther though we have to recognize the injustices that are resident in the political system itself, and just as Northern businessmen in the first half of the 19th century were in no hurry to see slavery abolished in the United States, despite the very fanciful myth of an all encompassing and altruistic abolitionism in the North, so it must be recognized that the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party of the last 30 years have shattered the lives of hundreds of millions of peoples both internally and externally to the United States, most predominately people of color. With this we must abandon old political loyalties, we must eschew political sensibilities, and we must break open a new economic and social justice for all people, because believing that the established political classes and authorities will do so is simply just insane.

The foundational documents that created the United States established our country within a political and economic system of racism. The electoral college system and its attendant Three/Fifths Compromise, that thing which gave us Donald Trump last November, not the Russians and Putin, is one of such pillars of that state system of slavery that to this day remains a functioning part of the US Constitution, our political process and our overt society.

Fortunately, protest and people coming together to change the system and our country for the better have also been a part of America’s history. I was in Chicago this past week at the Veterans For Peace convention, returning last night, and so I missed some very just, honorable and righteous people pulling down a statue in Durham, NC, a statue that had been dedicated to the men who were the guardians of slavery, a statue that should never have been raised. I happen to know one or two of those people who performed that toppling, better people I don’t know.

I believe in non-violence. Removing a statue that celebrates the guardians of slavery is a worthy and defendable non-violent action, and it is something I will always endorse.

My friends, let’s speak true words to one another and let’s wage peace.