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Take Path of Active Nonviolence in Response to 9-11
Published on Wednesday, September 4, 2002 in the Madison Capital Times
Take Path of Active Nonviolence in Response to 9-11
by Jean McElhaney

"We ask for your help to make the Sept. 11 anniversary a time to reflect on peace and healing, not a time to call for more war and violence."

These are the words of Kelly Campbell, who lost a brother-in-law to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. She is a founding member and co-director of Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization started by Sept. 11 families who advocate peace, not war. I heard her speak in New York at the national conference of the Fellowship of Reconciliation in June. The theme of the conference was "The Power of Nonviolence: Exploring Alternatives."

I had felt drawn to the conference because I wanted to explore questions that I wasn't hearing addressed in the mainstream media. I believe the issue is not the horror of the terrorist acts, but how we can honor the innocent people who died. How can we make sure that anger, fear, hatred and violence are not the last words?

I, along with so many others, was filled with grief at the horrible images on television. But I was also inspired by the love I saw. After the devastating attacks, the world responded with an outpouring of support. People donated blood, flowers, time and money. Individuals came together to mourn and to light candles. Governments around the world expressed their solidarity against terrorism.

Then, on Oct. 7, the United States started bombing Afghanistan. Violence was met with violence, and the cycle continues.

Many people, including me, believe there is another way. People say, "Well, we can't just do nothing." I believe there is a third way, a way between "doing nothing" and bombing, and that is the path of active nonviolence.

At the conference, I met many people who are involved in this third way. I met a young Israeli refusenik, a woman who is refusing to serve in the military actions against the Palestinians. I heard Palestinians speak of the importance of nonviolent solutions.

I ended up sitting next to the sister of a man President Bush had praised in one of his post 9-11 speeches. Her brother had stayed behind to help a man in a wheelchair. She told me that the only way to honor her brother's life is to work for peace. I spoke with another woman who had been fighting nuclear weapons for over 50 years. Her most recent action had been at Project ELF, in northern Wisconsin.

One of the people I met was David Hartsough, co-director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. The goal of his group is to create a trained international civilian nonviolent peace force. Their brochure states, "The Peaceforce will be sent to conflict areas to prevent death and destruction and protect human rights, making space for local groups to struggle nonviolently, enter into dialogue, and seek a peaceful resolution."

This effort continues the work of Mahatma Gandhi, who was building a "peace troop" at the time of his assassination in 1948. The Peaceforce has compiled an impressive body of research showing the effectiveness of nonviolence (available on their Web site, They estimate that the first year of training and deployment will cost about $3.5 million, "or about the same amount the world's militaries spend in three minutes."

The Nonviolent Peaceforce is inviting people to use Sept. 11 as a "Day for Remembrance and Renewal." It is encouraging people to work a day for peace and donate their wages from that day to the Nonviolent Peaceforce. Tax-deductible donations may be made to Peaceworkers, 801 Front Ave., St. Paul, MN 55103. By doing this, people can transform their everyday work into a meaningful commemoration of last year's tragedy and a concrete step toward a more nonviolent world. Our labor becomes the outward manifestation of our hope for a better future.

It is true that a nonviolent peace force may not have been able to prevent the terrorist attacks last year. It is also true that supporting them could be one of many possible nonviolent actions we can take.

We can become informed about world news, U.S. foreign and domestic policy decisions and perspectives from other countries.

We can contact elected representatives in support of human rights, a healthy environment, education, health care and respect for international law as the way to promote security.

We can engage in life-sustaining and creative activities such as music, art and writing.

I also believe that it is important to work on the inner level as well: Prayer, meditation and study can be sustaining and vital counterbalances to outer actions.

Each one of us has a choice about how to create meaning from this day. Both as individual people and as a nation, we can choose to isolate in fear or build community in hope. We can choose to perpetuate the cycle of violence or to boldly act in another way. We must choose as individuals and collectively as a democratic society.

I believe the most patriotic thing we can do is to actively choose and to make our voices heard. However you choose to observe the Sept. 11 anniversary, I wish you peace.

Jean McElhaney lives in Lone Rock, Wisconsin and is planning to participate in work a day for peace.


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