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Little Insurrections of Hope

As I mentioned in this space earlier, I was recently in Barcelona at the War Resisters International’s seminar on War Profiteering and Peace Movement Responses. It was a really interesting time to be a Yankee abroad. The streets in the city center filled up with protests against budget cuts each evening, and everyone at the meetings was talking about OccupyWallStreet in slightly awed and disbelieving tones—as though to say “even the U.S. of A. is getting with the program.”

I was repeatedly asked where I thought the Occupy Movement was headed, a question I cleverly avoided—“look, is that a tapas bar over there? How do you say, ‘more wine, please’ in Spanish?” It is a good question, but as Donald Rumsfeld used to say: “that’s above my pay grade.” The 792nd consecutive weekly vigil outside of Alliant Techsystems in Minneapolis in August.

At the end of each long day participating in different seminar tracks (war and exploitation of natural resources, exposing the bad guys, new trends in war profiteering) and workshops on how to research the arms trade, use social media and campaign against drone warfare, we gathered in the city center for the Trobada, convened by the Center for Study of Justice and Peace (Centre d’Estudis per a la Pau JM Delàs). Lots of people turned out for these nightly events, the one at which I presented drew more than one hundred people on a Friday night (but no one in Barcelona eats dinner before 10 pm anyway).

I spent my 20 minutes trying to sharing some of the peace movement responses to war making and war profiteering. The people of Barcelona found this helpful and inspiring (at least those who were there, or at least that is what they told me) and so I thought I would use my blog post this week to share some of what I said there.

When we spend all our time focused on exactly what is wrong and how big and powerful the wrongdoers are, we can inadvertently give short shrift to the people organizing and struggling and (sometimes) winning, so I want to share some snapshots of U.S. resistance. The international news media has focused some attention on the Occupy Movement, but here are some things you are probably not hearing about:

A few weeks ago, a small group gathered in Washington to protest the annual weapons showcase at a fancy hotel. Representatives from every major weapons manufacturer came together, looked at the latest killing technology and made deals. They also ate very expensive meals—the Air Force Association and Lockheed Martin sponsored a $330 a plate banquet. Outside protesters held signs and read from a statement:

We cannot let the arms merchants, who are displaying the latest killing technology and weapons, conduct their gala banquet without protest.  We seek to give voice to the victims who have suffered and died in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere as a direct result of U.S. warmaking, and weapons, like the Drone “Predator” and “Reaper” bombing planes, produced by the arms contractors participating in the Arms Bazaar.

At the beginning of the month, there was a week of action against nuclear weapons and the militarism of space organized out of a small town in Maine that is home to General Dynamics’ military ship building enterprise. The week of action encompassed thousands of people around the world. I like thinking about this group of people in particular. It seems like the script of a sci-fi movie—the battle between the powers that have colonized the heavens for military domination and the communities that want to see the billions of dollars and brilliance of scientists and engineers harnessed for the good of this world.

And on October 2, in Minneapolis, a small group of activists celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s 142nd birthday and discussed what will happen next, now that Alliant Techsystems—the weapons manufacturer they have protested and vigiled and trespassed at is closing its operations in Minnesota and moving to the Washington, DC area. This cluster bomb maker wants to be closer to its customers. The group has been there every Wednesday morning for 798 weeks. If you know of a good place to vigil, give Alliant Action a call.

Also, last weekend, on the other side of our huge nation, Catholic Worker communities from around the country gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada. The acolytes of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, who believe in the works of mercy, personalism and adhere to a radical vision of redistribution of wealth and power out of the hands of the bosses and bishops and experts and intellectuals and into the hands of the poor gathered in the city that best exemplifies my country’s quest of mindless entertainment, wealth without labor and rapacious consumption of resources. They met and prayed and shared and resisted. Many occupied the Nevada Test Site where nuclear weapons were tested above and below ground for decades and Creech Air Force base where military drones operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are based.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, another group began an open-ended occupation in Washington, DC in a park called “Freedom Square” last Thursday.

These are just a few of the peace movement responses. And there are so many more! Despite the bleak outlook and the dark times, the United States is a nation up in arms: struggling, resisting, and organizing. It is a cause for hope.  We cannot get overwhelmed, we cannot get tired or despondent in the face of all of this. We must continue. We must share information and analysis, we must strategize together. We must.

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