Who is really for peace?
It has been about a year since I first started to really entrench myself in movement spaces. The murder of Mike Brown was a catalyst for many of us to get up, speak out, and act accordingly. I was no exception. Before being deeply involved in movement spaces and organizing I would say I had read a number of books and heard a plethora of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Huey Newton, Kwame Turee, Angela Davis, Che Guevarra, and many other revolutionaries of their time. Their time was characterized by massive civil rights protests, actions, legislations, and even guerilla war based revolutionary overthrows of governmental structures
The argument of militancy vs. non-violent direct action is a common theme in most of these texts and speeches. This argument has been muddied greatly over the years to mean “Violent vs. Non-violent” or even “peaceful vs. non-peaceful” action. I always find it very peculiar how interpretations of the words violence and peace can vary so widely amongst so many people. This division in ideologies has always made me very interested in the word “peace” because the meaning of it seems to vary so greatly depending on who you ask.
I was confronted more directly with this idea when I went to a confederate flag rally this weekend as a means of non-violent direct action in which a group of local activists intended to march through the path of the confederate flag supporters to express our discontent with the symbols they choose to honor.
The confederate flag rally supporters and participants envisioned a meet up at the first park where they would socialize briefly till everyone arrived and then hang their confederate flags outside of their car and drive to the second park. Once they get to the second park they would have a nice barbecue reflecting on their “confederate heritage” and the like.
Our intention was to throw a monkey wrench in their plans by making it known that people were in opposition to what was going on. We showed up with signs in protest and we blocked the entry way to the park in order for the people to stop and recognize our opposition. We were chanting many of our typical chants, black lives matter, no justice no peace, etc. While doing so we were welcomed with a plethora of racial slurs and degrading remarks. Many of the people in our group returned the favor and decided to make degrading remarks in return. Eventually a confederate flag was burned. We then moved out the way and they began their drive to the new park.
We were able to beat most of their participants to the new park but and we blocked the entry again with similar chants. They began to push us out the way with their cars. We moved out the way to allow them to enter the park. We followed them in and continued marching and chanting. This led to some of our participants having one on one break off dialogues with their participants discussing the implications of the flag and mutual feelings on the topic. These conversations ranged from productive to embattling. There were allegations that one of our participants threatened a dog of one of their participants. There were allegations in turn that participants on their side pulled a knife and a gun. Police reports were filed.
It was a tense and heated exchange throughout. Tears were spilt on our side. A lot of ranges of conflicting emotions from hope, distraught, pain, and strength.
When I was leaving this action, which was while we were blocking entry into the second park, I walked past a car where two women with confederate flags flying saw my shirt, which said “world peace” on the back. One woman complimented it saying “does your shirt say World Peace on the back?” I said it did. She then insisted on being overtly complimentary of the message on my shirt, which led me to believe she was mocking me. Anyway, I thanked the lady for her compliments and went about my way.
Now why would this woman be mocking my shirt saying “World Peace” in this situation? Yes, we were making noise by chanting and disrupting their normal pathway in order to express our discontent. By my definition we were being peaceful and our action was derived solely from the desire to bring peace and harmony to a world we all love so dearly.
To better understand this let’s examine a few definitions of peace to see where incongruences may lie.
3. a state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations: Try to live in peace with your neighbors.
4. the normal freedom from civil commotion and violence of a community; public order and security: He was arrested for being drunk and disturbing the peace.
6. freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, an obsession, etc.; tranquility; serenity.
7. a state of tranquility or serenity: May he rest in peace.
8. a state or condition conducive to, proceeding from, or characterized by tranquility: the peace of a mountain resort.
9. silence; stillness: The cawing of a crow broke the afternoon’s peace
After reviewing the definitions it becomes quite obvious where the disconnections arise. When I speak of peace I am referring to definition numbered 3 above. From our interaction it is possible that the woman I spoke with was referring to definition numbered 9 though there may be a lot of overlap between there.
When Dr. King and most movement people speak of peace we are speaking of the mutual state of harmony that can exist in the world if we all do our part to be global citizens. This means keeping our governments, businesses, people, and ourselves accountable for respecting the states of disadvantage many people in our society are encountering so that we can all be uplifted to a state of harmony that is not reserved for those born into more privileged social, racial, or economic classes.
When many objectors of protests and rallies speak about peace they are saying “Shut the Fuck Up!” without directly saying it and referring to definition numbered 9 above.
There is obviously a great variance between this these two perspectives. For example, definitions numbered 6, 7, and 8 refer to tranquility and having a state conducive to that tranquility. For the confederate rally goers we disrupted their tranquility and thus are were not being peaceful in our actions according to definitions 6,7, and 8. On the other hand we could make the same claim that their rally disrupted our tranquility and also refer back to definition numbered 3 stating that we must act to bring about that mutual harmony we were referring to.
We can go on for days with these variances and stances back and forth. But at the end of the day, both sides being are just as warranted in their feelings that the other side is not being peaceful and they are in fact the “peaceful ones.” So what does that mean? Who is really for peace???
This question brings me back to an idea by Huey P Newton of the Black Panther party:
“I think that words, I think that Language, I think that poetry, none of it works. I don’t think that human language has caught up with the human evolutionary process. Because it seems like every time we try to express a deep thing, a heavenly thing, a God like thing, we come up short…So what do we do when our words fail each other? We wind up trying to touch each other…”
In the context Huey was speaking he was relating this to poetry and expressions of Love but I think this is applicable across all areas of human interaction. When words fail us in a confrontation we try to touch each other in a way that we feel is appropriate to express the emotions of anger, pain, or frustration.
So what does it all mean?
That question is a daunting one. If we cannot even find common ground in a word as simple as “Peace” what can we find agreement on? Are we meant to find common ground on anything or is this polarity a necessity to the balance of life? A ying to a yang so to speak?
Towards the end of MLK’s life he alluded to America being a house that is burning down around us. There is genuine merit to that perception. If that is truly the case, is there a way to create a more cohesive dissidence between the people? Where we can all maintain our autonomy of thought and uniqueness while being more constructive and cooperative in our dissent?
These are ideas we must confront and address to truly create a long-term sustainable revolution in the world we live in. What will this future society look like? I hope not one of group think. I hope we are truly able to maintain the ying and yang and balance of individuality while still creating a culture of worldly human interconnection. That is the goal we must challenge ourselves to live out. But with every great pursuit there is left many unanswered questions.
I believe there is much value in the unanswered question. The unanswered question has driven humanity to heights we never thought were possible. We must not shy away from them. In the unanswered we will find our truth.
So who is for peace? The lady at the confederate flag rally is, I am, we both are, and none of us are. We need to find a way to come to each other with communication and understanding rather than condescension because as the house burns. . . more fire won’t be what puts it out.
Editor – Iris Nevins