As the United States hunkers down for a long war against terrorism, a vibrant, conscience-stirring peace movement is more important than ever.
Informed dissent that protects civil liberties, challenges excessive government secrecy and questions a wider conflict is a robust expression of democratic business as usual after Sept. 11.
People with the courage to speak out are valued citizens.
As clear, however, is the peace movement's desperate need for new material.
Like generals fighting the last war, peace activists who use old templates of protests after a murderous assault on 6,000 innocent civilians will quickly be judged irrelevant. And ignored.
An exquisite example of nothing to say was a placard at a Seattle rally that read: "Stop violence everywhere."
All that was missing were three more signs: "End Disease," "No More Hunger" and "Go M's." That nicely covers a spectrum of sentiments and they could carpool.
If the peace movement wants to be heard, it has to offer a credible alternative in frightening, perplexing times.
Normally articulate people in Seattle's peace movement are tongue-tied by events. The stammering and silence about what comes next is deafening.
I find that most reassuring. These are smart, dedicated people whose deep intellectual beliefs have collided with the reality of evil that kills with ingenuity and resolve.
The peace movement has to rethink and gain control of its message.
Any rhetoric that hints of an excuse, rationalization or multi-layered, nuanced understanding for religious extremists to kill on a massive scale will exile well-intended people to the fringes.
America suffered an atrocity at the hands of madmen not the slightest bit interested in giving peace a chance. Flying airliners into buildings is not a political science exercise to be parsed out and deconstructed.
I know this is terribly rude and indecorous for Seattle, but tell the black-clad anarchist-types to stay home. Their masks are cowardly and offensive, especially mixed in with courageous people who express strong beliefs in emotional times.
The slightest temptation to blame America for this attack, based on what happened in Vietnam, El Salvador, the Brazilian rain forest or on a factory floor in Indonesia means losing most of your audience.
As a local peace organizer noted, it is not America's fault terrorists were willing to do insane acts. Keep that in mind.
If papier-mâché turtles and other political theater try to crowd out the memory of 6,000 dead, the peace community will be contemptuously dismissed.
Stay focused, don't strain for a unifying theory that binds union organizing, free speech, religious freedom, reproductive choice and gay rights unless, of course, the point is Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda would incinerate them all.
Facile recitations of past U.S. military involvement tend to omit Bosnia and Kosovo. If America, and European allies, are ripe for criticism in defense of those Muslim minorities, it is for averting their eyes for too long.
U.S. bombing raids, and international ground troops, ended a decade of genocide against Muslims, not that anyone noticed.
The measured response of the Bush administration in Afghanistan has flummoxed his critics. They are pleased and impressed the first aerial bombardment of a ragged nation was with food supplies. They even want a little credit for the president looking over his shoulder at public opinion.
The core of the peace movement, those dedicated souls who pay attention when the rest of us do not, could be saying a form of "I told you so" right now.
They've never stopped preaching against the spread of nuclear weapons. Dirt poor Pakistan, the only nation to recognize the Taliban, has the bomb.
They're constantly warning against using the U.S. military as an arm of foreign policy and arming others without our democratic values. Here we go again, with the Northern Alliance, the drug-smuggling, corrupt predecessors of the Taliban. No, we don't seem to learn.
At this moment, a persistent call to stay focused on military targets is a message to build upon. Everyone is fearful of more civilian casualties, here or abroad.
I wish the peace movement made a sharper distinction between military policy and the immediate members of the armed forces, and their anxious families. Recognition of their contributions, fears and sacrifices is overdue by those whose hearts bleed for everyone else.
If the peace movement is looking for a mission in confusing, divisive times, make it education. The thirst for information and context is acute.
The trick for the peace movement is to operate as part of the larger community, instead of appearing to be on the outside looking in.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company