You are here
Home > Local News > Activism > Letter to the PPJPC from a member

Letter to the PPJPC from a member

peter sprunger-froese writes: Comrades. . .
Without belittling the positives of our parade experience, Saturday’s potluck discussion of it suggests to me we are in danger of overlooking important negatives. Irony beckons us to see at best a “mixed bag” in our part of the parade. Otherwise our own learning stops and history becomes meaningless. Details aside, over-arching and most troubling in my mind was the presence of the “Honor the troops…” banner on each side of the bus. Not wanting to be an individualistic sourpuss on our group, i continued to walk, yet how tempting it was to exit. As soon as i saw the banner i knew our peace message would be as non-controversial and without substance as that of the billions in this world who imagine peace and national primary loyalties can stand side by side.

That says not merely that everybody is for peace, including every tyrant there is or ever was. Logically –because of the nature of any provincialistic loyalty– that is also to say it is somehow valid to have peace on our terms, even at the expense of someone else’s life. In the U.S. this patriotic mindset has reached proportions far exceeding all other countries precisely because of its empire status. It has become the equivalent of narcissistic adolescents desperately scampering for an identity by comparing each other, using the familiar”I’m better than you” game. The near-sacrosanct role that U.S. national documents often play for us is but one example of this self-righteous comparing syndrome. Whatever their relative value, these documents’ inherently non-universal character and focus continue to be a severe blinding force for even the progressive segment of the U.S. public.

Yes, i know people’s typical reaction to this: peace is a stepping stone process; we must begin where people are at so as to avoid being offensive; therefore leave national symbolism intact. My immediate question to this liberalism, as applied to Saturday is, at what point does the quest for mainstream respectability contradict our message? Look, eg, at the word “Honor” on our banner. Core to its meaning in Saturday’s context was that we endorse, support and give moral approval to the troops’ behavior! So i ask, did we forget that troops are human, that regardless of how extensive the “economic draft” is, they are choice-capable human beings? They are fully capable of and responsible for applying moral scrutiny to the question of signing up for Uncle Sam. If we believe there are options –with our assistance as the public– for our “lazy bum” friends to get jobs and contribute to society, the same perspective surely applies to those considering the military. The question then becomes, why didn’t the banner instead say something true to who i believe we are: “Support the troops who dissent;” “Ware is never the answer;” “Convert the troops to non-violence;” or –in line with the primacy of world citizenship that the peace position inherently requires– “Stop the genocide of our Iraqi sisters and brothers.” You obviously could come up with more and better messages.

Correct me if i’m wrong… I think we were so “caught off guard” in being asked by officialdom to be in the parade this year that we quite forgot to discriminate between patriotic peace and universal, or true peace. The patriotic peace on our banner represents the always fictional “peace through violence!” It’s the Constantinian, Brady Boyd type of peace at the New Life Church that relies ultimately on violent security guards to “protect” their congregation. It’s the kind of peace that gains our mayor’s and the rest of officialdom’s approval. At last year’s press conference we stood up to this mindset. We declared that neither the Justice and Peace Commission (J&P) nor the Bookman broke any parade rules –nor intended to– and that the parade in fact contained myriad other social issues besides ours. This year, once we learned social issues would be accepted, we apparently became so compliant with parade organizers and the police as to seem apologetic for last year and for our non-patriotic peace stance.

First, we apparently forgot the injustice behind the Bookman’s not being invited, but only the J&P, to participate in the parade. The Bookman was as much maligned by the public and by officialdom last year as was the J&P. The matter, i assume, could have been easily settled with an upfront meeting of the permit issuers and representatives of our two entries.

Second, somehow –whether through the courtroom of a largely conservative public opinion and/or through officialdom’s court– we got derailed from our earlier sense of injustice by the police at last year’s parade. Meetings with them seem not to have reminded them that their professional ethics contain no valid reason or circumstance whatsoever that could justify their behavior –whether in the treatment of six of our parade friends, or more generally of our many mentally ill, often obstreperous and inebriated friends.

To prevent potential misunderstanding here, let me footnote, i am not necessarily expecting an official apology (tho perhaps City Councilman Larry Small did?) i assume –with probably most of you– that officialdom’s invitation for at least the J&P to participate in the parade, was an “olive branch,” an oblique, face-saving attempt to apologize and “make peace” with us. In the same way Mayor Rivera’s informally greeting us on Saturday can possibly be understood as a closeted apology for his claim last year that the police acted appropriately. We know that apologies, especially among leaders of countries, systems, traditions and ideologies are quite in vogue today. They generally follow delay, the usual fate of inconvenient truths (whenever outright concealment or else “psychological distancing” is impossible). That is, they mostly emerge when wrongs are already publicly abhorred and impossible to avoid.

In our case, whether or not to give local officialdom the “apologetic benefit of the doubt” at this point is discussable, in my opinion, as long as it does not amount simply to an atrophied “wishing the problem away” on our part. More critical in the long run, I believe, is that our nonviolent witness keep the human concern before the system. Partly that means, i believe, for us to promote accountability, that which comes not through coercion tactics, but through forthright truth-telling, remembering and forgiving. It is a step against the system’s domination, impersonalization, and patriotic self-righteousness. i can well imagine, with such violent persistence, that individuals –eg, police officer Paladino– can, just like anybody else in this world, come forth voluntarily to apologize, receive forgiveness from us, recognize the error of his and the system’s ways, and even begin working for either improved systemic change or else to withdraw from policing employment out of reasons of an enlarged conscience.

Meanwhile, none of this dare demure the fact that empires can’t be humble. Whether old or current, the are remarkably callous in the exercising of their power, and equally paranoid about any challenges to it. We probably all recall, almost fatuously were it not so real and sad, when a recent debate ran in the local Independent about a system possibly requiring police officers to wear patriotic yellow ribbons on their cruisers. (Whatever sliver remains of the First Amendment today actually ended that controversy in our favor.) I say this just to reinforce how deeply the imperial monster is tied also to the police office. Behind their facade of being servants to the public and “interested in working more with local groups,” the officers in fact are and must be declared our natural adversaries. Why? Their vows of commitment are to a value-system in which violence is the only trusted bottom line of effective problem solving (the myth of redemptive violence). The officers are required to be spies ad control-freaks for the empire. i’ve heard they’ve already asked what the J&P has “up its sleeve” for the Democratic Convention in Denver in August.

If we fail to identify the police officers as first representing a violent system, we will get snared by a “wold in sheep’s clothing.” In that subtle trap we’ll then get enticed to volunteer information to them and even request their permission for our planned protests. The net effect becomes a nearly unconscious Faustian pact on our part with what our “Honor the troops” banner symbolizes: a violence-driven peace commitment unable to discriminate between police and soldiers as individuals versus their role as robotic capitulators to a system we inherently oppose.

The nonviolent alternative we try to be and teach is troubling to this system. Partly that is because our analysis of it runs far beyond that offered by its administration or the myopia of partisan politics. More specifically, the system considers violence and control pivotal to its existence. Hence we are perceived as a type of loose cannon. That is because, contrary to our banner’s message, we don’t even believe in their system; the spirit of nonviolence defies any ultimate control mechanisms and seeks no security in any such systems as long as they are limited, flawed and made unreliable by their violence. Part of the consequence of this counter-position, from the system’s standpoint, as we noted, is the latter’s embarrassing difficulty projecting an apology to a group like ours. For ourselves, an obvious consequence of our position is that we must expect ostracism –not ontologically but sociologically. That means for us not withdrawal but ongoing critical engagement of the system, yet without ever expecting respectability for it. Kindred spirits from yesteryear have taught us the viability of such a road because deep convictions, when sincerely owned, have a way of preservation and growth not dependent on popular palatability.

With this in mind, it concerns me less (if I heard correctly), that some “Pied Piper” pressure probably underlay the presence of the two patriotic banners on the bus. Much more of a concern is how it happened. Not aware how the planning meetings somehow came to accept this (my apology for having been able to attend only one), i ask now: Was it a vote that decided our banners? Was it timidity on the part of some people at the meetings who i;m sure would have raised my concern too? Was it an inadvertent over-ruling of a dissenting perspective? Was it “ideological sloppiness” resulting from the weight of logistical detail in our parade preparation process? Was it insufficient overlap of meeting attenders? Was it the sway of postmodernism’s “diversity and tolerance” absolutism? Was it bits and pieces of all of the above?

If those banners were somehow the unintended conclusion of the meetings, let’s find ways to improve our collective thinking and planning. If they were intended, then i must at least cast my contrary vote now, belatedly: whether we come to our peace stance from a secular or religious grounding, i can se any and all construals of patriotic peace only as fundamentally contradictory. The non-negotiable first premise of peace –in both the educational and action components of the J&P– is surely the well-being of all human beings as equal agents of life on this beautiful, needy planet. Anything less mires us into a provincial loyalty, a tribalism. i implore us to disown this civil religion because its commitment –as our banners symbolized to the mainstream (part of who we seek to communicate with)– is an unambiguous loyalty first to nation state. Overall, the banner controversy reminds us that we are unavoidably all creatures of language. Therefore, according to my complaint here, attaching anything other than universalist-connoting words and symbolism to the peace message is not only its dilution but its negation; it’s to say the call and respect of the status quo is priority. i know we know ad can do better.

NMT
Blurb about self

One thought on “Letter to the PPJPC from a member

Leave a Reply

Top