Slicing the pie of public opinion on peace

Some 2,000 antiwar protesters with torches form a peace symbol at Heroes Square in Budapest, Hungary, in 2005. The event marked the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Photograph by Zsolt Szigetvary/epa/ CORBIS
Sally’s World, March 2003


I heard a conservative commentator on the radio a week or so ago, using the dirty word “peace,” coupling it with its usual complements of “loonies” and “fringe” and talking about how “stupid” the advocates for peace were because they had announced where their rallies were going to be held. His reasoning was that anyone opposed to unilateral action against Iraq would want to hold secret meetings – perhaps in catacombs lit by candlelight?

This assumption reflects a reality: For quite a while now to publicly say that you are not in support of any action taken by the United states in the “war on terrorism” is a bit like tossing up your hands and saying, “Throw me to the lions!

I am perplexed. I thought this was America and that unlike many other places in the world we had the right to assemble and to speak our opinions freely. And that indeed if we had a point of view we wanted to express that it was well within our rights and the parameters of common sense to express that POV in a visible way (as long as our actions are legal and law abiding).

I was thinking about this when I was eating $1 burgers with my friends Brook and Iva at Laurie’s Polka Inn in Bridgman, Michigan, and we were talking about the State of the Union, not the speech that President George W. Bush gave in January, but the actual state of the union.

Brook’s 7 year old daughter was falling asleep cuddled in her mom’s lap, and Brook says:” I wonder what my daughter will say to me when she looks back at this time, when she looks at the way my generation has led this country‚Ķ”

“I was so angry at my parents when I learned that Marshall Tito was a dictator and did horrible things to people,” says Iva. Iva’s a bit younger than Brook and me. Her family moved to the United States in 1996 after trudging from one country to the next fleeing their war-ravaged home of Sarajevo. “My mother and father told me that Tito was the great one and that everything was peace and harmony, and I grew up believing in these myths because nobody would speak the truth. So war, I couldn’t believe it when it broke out!”

“When I think of the war it was like yesterday. And I know war, when it happens it happens overnight.”

And that’s how families are feeling in war-torn places around the globe – horrified at their bad luck and frightened for their lives. That’s what war and intense conflict does to people – it creates unbearable uncertainty. That’s what the incomprehensible acts of Sept. 11, 2001, did to us. The people of the United States are on edge and rightly so – we must protect ourselves and those we love.

The complexities of this situation are mind numbing.

What isn’t complex is that in the United States we have the right to speak our personal truths – whether well-reasoned or directly transmitted into our cerebral cortex from Pluto.

In the United Sates, we are not ruled by Tito. We are a Democracy. Silence does not rule the day.

In a macabre twist, the terrorists of September 11 used our freedom and our wealth as a weapon against us. The things that make this such a great country — the way we welcome people from other lands, the way we move about freely, the technology that allows us to access our money, the trust most of us have that people will follow the rules — enabled this action.

Despite our deep hurt, and this cruel turn on our freedoms and good will, we shouldn’t forget our core value of political freedom.

And that’s why I bring up that dirty word “peace.” A single syllable that some of us have been muttering under our breath worried that someone might hear and label us “loony” or worse. For a long time, the media – newspapers, broadcast outlets and others in the mainstream – have characterized anyone willing to stand with a different opinion that way.

In part, the reason for this is coalition politics. Those who stood up first were those with unequivocal moral opposition to any war – like the American Friends Service Committee – or those political groups with an axe to grind and little to lose – like the Communist Party.

The bottom line is that the early coalition couldn’t agree on a common message. Combine this with the universal horror of the terrorist action and the well-coordinated communication effort coming from the White House and you have a powerful wall of thought impenetrable by multiple points of communication and multiple points of view. All messages – from President Bush’s administration to the grassroots – are tried in the press. The message of those opposing war appeared to be a big mish-mosh, and it simply did not look credible enough to support the mainstream population. And the numbers simply were not out there.

But that is changing.

I believe the Web as a tool for global communication is deeply affecting our current state of the union. Now anyone with Internet access can sample many, many different points of view – from CNN to the BBC to their equivalents in countries around the world and to hundreds of independent media outlets ranging in perspective from so-far-right to so-far-left that they actually meet at the backend.
It is easier now than it has ever been to get the information you need to form your own opinion.

The new tool of the internet, combined with the mish-mosh coalition message and my own inherent skepticism inspired me to create a personal litmus test for developing my opinion related to any action related to controlling terrorism in the world. I ask myself: Does this action by my government make me feel safer?

Evidence is mounting that others have developed similar tests, and when the answer is “no,” they are taking to the streets. Even the New York Times in a January 20th editorial says that recent demonstrations in Washington displayed concern from America’s mainstream, not the fringe, about the United State’s proposed intervention in Iraq.
Still, the magnitude of the numbers of protestors is a point of dispute in Manhattan where the City has refused to issue a parade and rally permit for more than 10,000 people, and the coalition holding the rally, United for Peace and Justice, is seeking a permit for 100,000. At this writing in early February, the issue is unresolved, but Peace and Justice is urging supporters to continue their plans to come to New York.

Public opinion is always divided – the size of each slice of the pie is decided by who’s serving the pieces. And there are always several pies on the table to be tasted.

These rallies are a sign that our Democracy is healthy. By freely speaking our personal truth, we can keep it that way.