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Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Who We Are

There was a massive demonstration for peace in St. Paul yesterday to greet the Republican National Convention, at least 10,000 people strong. People of all ages, races, creeds—carrying signs, singing and chanting, offering water to each other in the fierce sun.

I just spoke with someone who did the entire march, from the Capitol building to the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is taking place. She said everything she saw the entire time was absolutely peaceful and respectful, that even if someone on the sidelines yelled agitating words, or if anyone tried to start an angry chant, it would die a natural death because no one else would give it life.

How different. How different her first-hand account was from the bits of official news I grabbed here and there: hundreds arrested; teargas, pepper spray; dispersing rioters. Official accounts were eight to ten thousand protesters, but my friend, who has had experience with large protests going back to Chicago at the infamous ’68 Democratic Convention, assures me it was most definitely over ten.

She twice offered water to policemen forced to dress up in suffocating riot gear as Darth Vader. One new, young cop looked confusedly at her, as though he’d been taught she was the enemy and he didn’t know how to react to such a contradictory action.

How should we, as a people, as a nation, read such events?

I personally believe that there are far more similarities than differences between human beings. That any differences are often exaggerated and played up by some in power for their own purposes. That it is our responsibility as human beings to make ourselves aware of such cynical power ploys and to resist them. Does the fact that the cops were apparently ordered to primarily harass and arrest people with video cameras suggest anything to you?

I know that many, many people believe that they only have the responsibility to listen to their designated leaders, take those leaders’ words at face-value, and act on them: the common social and religious formula for being “good” the wide world over. But I expect more of myself, and I expect more of other human beings as well.

In actuality, the protester I refer to as a friend is my therapist. And in a session today, I was crying as I bemoaned the lack of human beings with integrity and courage in my own life as well as in the greater world. I spoke of how tired I was with a lifetime of very real struggles for truth and peace and justice amid cruelties and ignorance and cowardice. I spoke of even losing the will to live because of those experiences.

That’s when she began relating what she saw yesterday, with tears filling her eyes as she spoke of that sense of unity, of common cause for good, that I recall from my own similar experiences of protests through the years. She advised me that it wasn’t really an anti-war or anti- anything protest. It was a demonstration for peace, for good. She told me of one sign she recalled, a quote from Martin Luther King, something to effect of: “How we treat other people defines who we are.”

What she said brought tears to my eyes also, brought a renewal of hope. Because yesterday, despite the intimidating presence of scores of riot-geared, baton, tear gas and pepper spray wielding cops who were hot and nervous about “protesters,” over ten thousand people came out to say: No, this is NOT who we are. We are not a nation of torturers, of secret oil alliances, of liars and manipulators, of killers and war criminals.

What we still have to define, of course, is what we are. Which is--to a great extent--what this next historically critical election is all about; it will define us, and our future, for a very long time.

Think and Be Dangerous



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