This summer we’ve seen several beautiful protests against U.S. warmaking. Friends have been fasting for peace in front of the White House under the banner, “Troops Home Fast.” Others have been walking for peace through Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky. Eighty five year old Rev. Daniel Berrigan and two dozen others blocked the entrance to the U.S. mission to the United Nations, demanding the closure of Guantanamo, and were arrested and jailed. In New Mexico, we’re preparing for the 61st anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima when we’ll sit in sackcloth and ashes to repent of the sin of war and nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, where the Bush administration spends billions of dollars on nuclear weapons, and even wants to start pit production next year. Hundreds will join us in Los Alamos on August 6th, including Kathy Kelly and Cindy Sheehan. Everyone is welcome.
But the killing of Iraqi sisters and brothers goes on with no end in sight, even though the polls show that some seventy percent of the U.S. public oppose Bush’s war, want the troops brought home, and desire a comprehensive, concrete and rapid withdrawal plan. People from all walks of life are saying, “Bring home the troops; close all U.S. bases in Iraq; fund a peace process for a post-occupation transition; reconstruct Iraq through massive reparations; and spend the hundreds of billions of dollars used to kill Iraqis instead on schools, jobs, healthcare, and low-income housing here at home, including the reconstruction of New Orleans.”
For the past few years we have marched, kept vigil, lobbied Congress and prayed for peace in a spirit of nonviolence, as Gandhi and King would advise. But nonviolence is not passive, reactionary, or weak. It requires creativity, assertiveness, and risk-taking. It is stronger than violence, so it takes the lead. It sets the agenda, insists on truth, takes action, and sees through its goal toward new breakthroughs of justice and peace.
In the early 1980s, activist Ken Butigan launched the Pledge of Resistance in opposition to Reagan’s contra war on Nicaragua. Tens of thousands agreed to commit nonviolent civil disobedience if the war did not end. We know now that that campaign became a major obstacle to the Pentagon, and helped end that war. Recently, Ken and his colleagues have started another, similar campaign. The two of us traveled to New York City in May to meet with Leslie Cagan, coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, to discuss his proposal. We explained that the Bush administration will tolerate marches and vigils for years to come. These nonviolent marches and vigils are important, but, we suggested, the time has come to up the nonviolent ante.
After much preliminary organizing, United for Peace and Justice and dozens of other leading groups have launched “The Declaration of Peace,” a campaign to pressure the U.S. government to stop its war and occupation on Iraq, much as the Pledge of Resistance did long ago.
The plan is simple. We continue to call for the immediate end of the war on Iraq, but presuming it does not end in the next few weeks, we urge every peace group in the nation to organize nonviolent civil disobedience at their local congressional representative’s office during the week of September 21-28, 2006, just days before Congress adjourns for the fall elections. We will hold our banners, demand that the troops come home, and sit in with steadfast nonviolence demanding an end to this mad war. And we will keep up the public pressure through the fall until a breakthrough for peace.
“The Declaration of Peace” Pledge reads in part as follows:
“I join with the majority of U.S. citizens, the people of Iraq, and people around the world in calling for a comprehensive end to the U.S. war in Iraq. I solemnly pledge to 1.) call on the Bush administration and Congress to immediately withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq, with no future redeployments; 2.) urge my congressional representatives to adopt a ‘bring the troops home now’ position, and to establish a concrete, comprehensive withdrawal plan no later than September 21, 2006, International Peace Day, just days before Congress adjourns; 3.) participate in marches, rallies, demonstrations and other peaceful strategies to establish this plan; and 4.) engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, as conscience leads me, if this plan for a comprehensive withdrawal is not established and activated no later than September 21, 2006.”
The plan calls for local and regional peace groups around the country to promote the Declaration of Peace Pledge. Out task is to recruit friends and activists and everyone we know to sign it, then to organize vigils and sit-ins at local Congressional representatives’ offices during the week of September 21-28, 2006.
A few of the national organizations which have already signed on to the Declaration include: United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action, Pax Christi USA, Call to Action, CodePink, War Resisters League, and the Network for Spiritual Progressives.
I think the time has come for just such a systematic, organized national campaign to demand peace with Iraq and employ the old movement weapon of civil disobedience. Every major movement for peace and justice in our history was able to turn a corner finally when its members nonviolently and illegally disrupted the big business of war and injustice.
My first response to this “Declaration of Peace” pledge was--“Sign Me Up!” I hope tens of thousands will also sign on, spread the word, sit in, and speak out, saying loudly and clearly for all to hear: “We, the people, declare peace. Bring the troops home now!”
John Dear is a Jesuit priest, activist and the author of over 20 books on peace and justice, including most recently, “You Will Be My Witnesses” (Orbis); “The Questions of Jesus” (Doubleday); and “Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings” (Orbis). He is working with www.paxchristinewmexico.org to organize events, including the “Sackcloth and Ashes” action at Los Alamos, New Mexico, on August 6, 2006 For information, see: www.johndear.org. To sign the pledge, go to: www.declarationofpeace.org