They shared one wish: peace
By Debra LoGuercio
©Copyright 2003, Debra LoGuercio, all rights reserved
Although there were several peace rallies taking place in our area on Feb. 15-16, I had no intentions of participating in any of them. I'd had enough stress for one week. I planned to decompress over the weekend and get back in touch with my life. However, a group of Winters folks were participating in the worldwide peace movement and that seemed newsworthy, so I decided to do a story on them. I'd only planned to take some pictures and talk with people about why they decided to give up their Saturday and get involved. I was with them in spirit, but the thought of thousands of pressing, screaming bodies was enough to shatter the one nerve I had left after a week of Orange Alerts and North Korean nukes. In the interest of mental health, I decided my reporter's notepad was as close as I'd be getting to the peace rally. But then I started talking to people.
They all had passionate, heartfelt reasons for going to the regional rally in Sacramento, but it was one woman's comment that got to me. When I asked her why she was there, she firmly but quietly replied, "I think it's the most important thing I can do today."
That hit home. Did I have something more important to do that day than support world peace? Like what? Wash my car? Do an extra pile of laundry? Sit on the couch and fret about the world? (I'd already spent plenty of time doing the latter, and it didn't help the world one bit.)
Hearing her comment, I couldn't NOT go. If the crowd became crushing or unruly, I'd duck into the nearest Starbucks and just ride it out. I told myself there was nothing that would happen that day that couldn't be sidestepped and merely observed while sipping a creamy, warm cappuccino.
We arrived by caravan near the Tower Bridge in West Sacramento, where hundreds of Yolo and Solano county residents gathered to walk across the bridge to the state capitol. I kept waiting for the chanting and yelling to start, but it didn't. The group filed calmly across the bridge, some holding signs, striking up conversations with nearby strangers about why they were there. When we reached the capitol, I looked back. The line from the Yolo and Solano contingent stretched as far down Capitol Avenue as I could see. And that was merely one of several starting points. On the capitol lawn, the throng of people was of all sizes, shapes, ages, colors and cultures. I'd expected the group to consist mainly of aging Berkeley hippies and college students who'll protest anything, anytime. But no. Most were just like me -- plain old middle class, white folks, all unhappy with the direction in which our government is heading. There was no frenzy or violence, no hysteria. No pushing or crowding. People simply stood there, many holding banners or signs, and listened. Amazing what you can learn when you close your mouth and open your ears. There isn't enough space here to repeat everything in depth, but one particular theme kept arising from both Arab and American speakers: war with Iraq cannot be viewed out of the context of the Israeli/Palestine conflict. "Any talk about Iraq without talk about Palestine means you have to mutilate reality," said CSUS professor Richard Becker.
In Arab minds, the two issues are inextricably linked. It doesn't matter if we don't view it that way. That's how they view an attack on Iraq, and they will respond in kind. (Read: JIHAD.) We'll be blowing the lid off terrorism when the first bomb explodes in Baghdad because, in their eyes, we will be aiding their enemy: Israel. They will be fighting, from their perspective, for their very lives. Another message was also repeated over and over from Arab speakers: Arabs do not hate Americans. Said one, "We come to you with all our colors - across all divides, across all religions. We stretch out our hands and say, 'We know you are not our enemy.' We stand shoulder to shoulder with you and say to George Bush, 'No to war.'" To the Bush administration, he said, "Our voice is clear, from the north to the south, from the east to the west: Ye shall not destroy this world. Ye shall not make us enemies."
I was thankful for this opportunity to hear unfiltered, honest Arab voices. We need this sort of connection with other cultures. The more we connect with each other, the less we'll fear each other. Moreover, Americans need to hear the other side of the story. The world is not all about us. It's time we learned that and acted accordingly. The most encouraging part of the day came from observing the people gathered at the capitol. This was no chaotic circus or rage-fest. This was truly a patriotic crowd. Over and over, people expressed love for this country and overwhelming desire to keep it from becoming the aggressive, greedy empire the Bush administration is creating. American flags waved proudly next to protest signs, and not one unkind word was spoken about our troops. Their courage and dedication was never questioned. The anger was focused where it belongs: on those making the decisions, not those obeying them. More than anything else, I was overjoyed to see so many people of diverse backgrounds and cultures gathered together, with one wish: to live in peace. Imagine all the world, folks.
Peace. It's not just for hippies anymore.
(To read the story about the Winters residents attending Saturday's regional peace rally in Sacramento, as well as more in-depth coverage of the rally, go to www.eDebra.com/Peace/SacRally.html.)