tideshift

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mercy

I've started a new blog, at www.letters-to-george.blogspot.com. It will have all the letters I wrote to George W. Bush between February and May 2002, with some small revisions. This is the introduction to that collection of letters. -KW

Mercy

I began this project in a spirit of despair, and a spirit of hope in the face of that despair. I was living in New York City on September 11. I walked along Staten Island’s deserted streets to my son’s day care center to pick him up, watching screaming fire engines head over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. In his classroom, I could stand and stare out the second floor window at the plumes of smoke rising from the tip of Manhattan. I was not surprised at all that it had happened. My immediate concern was with the American response. I desperately wanted it to be something other than brute, angry force.

On September 12, I wrote a letter to “President Bush, Congress and advisors,” listing the policy aspects of global injustice and steps that might be taken immediately toward achieving equality among all humans. A few days later, I attended a peace rally at Times Square and some organizing meetings at the International Action Center near Union Square, which had already coalesced a movement under the banner International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Within a week, I had written and sent a Peace Plan to the IAC and to Bush.

But within a month, American forces were already bombing Afghanistan. And since then, this historic time has darkened further, under the gathering momentum of individual human greed, violence, fear and shame clashing with individual human struggling toward freedom and equality in Palestine, Israel, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Vieques, Israel, Iraq, France, within the Catholic Church, among the Jewish and Muslim communities, everywhere.

As the months of war-mongering wore on, and my social work studies and marriage unraveled, I became filled with despair, frustration, bitterness, anger, every shade and color of poisonous human emotion. What am I to do? How are we to stop this cycle/circle; round and round; this is the way we go to war, go to war, go to war?

What can I do?

As a pacifist, I realized, my enemy was so-called hawks, conservatives, right-wingers, weapons manufacturers, Republican bully-cowards, Democratic coward-bullies. My enemy was not Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban, or the civilians of Afghanistan, or “terrorists.” My enemy was George W. Bush.

And it was George W. Bush to whom I had to direct my efforts to “Love mine enemies.” I realized that to hold him to the standards of universal divine teachings, I had to hold myself to those same standards. I had to teach by example, lead by example. I had, most importantly, to conquer my own violent feelings of anger and despair. I had to find a project to pour love and hope and faith into. I had to see George W. Bush as a human being exactly like myself, struggling with the same loving and hating drives. I had to provide support to the loving side of him, call it forth, “give it clean water and feed it fresh air,” as the Lorax said.

Revolutionary loving of thine enemies does not mean not criticizing them, although Jesus specifically cautioned people not to call anyone “raca,” or fool. Revolutionary loving means loving your enemies enough to criticize them gently and respectfully, to help them stop hurting themselves and others, for their sake and for the sake of their victims.

So I sent off my first letter on February 8, 2002. I did not know who exactly the audience would be. I imagined George reading the letters. I also pictured White House interns reading them, summarizing them in an unread report, and throwing them out. Perhaps those interns would feel loved and cared for as I wanted George to feel loved and cared for. Still a good thing, I figured. I considered the possibility that no one would read the letters, that they’d lie at the bottom of unopened bags stored in a postal warehouse or decontamination site, a casualty of biological weapons, of fear.

I also wanted to write something accessible to the vast “middle America” of people like my siblings -- an accountant, a computer design team manager, a teacher, all parents. I wanted to offer them a straightforward, broad but not deep account of what motivates the global justice movement, what trends and policies we are troubled by, what ideals and practices we see leading back to a more livable planet and more sustainable human civilization: what compels us to take to the streets in bands of protest and hope.

I thought maybe my husband would read the letters. I thought it might be good if other pacifists could read them, could change the strident, angry tone of their criticisms to a welcoming, loving, empathizing voice. I thought I would read them years from now. I thought future archaeologists digging up the toxic remains of American civilization might find them, and thus learn about how the months leading up to almost-but-not-quite unimaginable nuclear disaster were experienced by one white woman living along the coast of what was then called the Atlantic Ocean. I thought about feminists reading the letters. I thought about God. I thought about publishing them. I thought it would be good to contribute something to diversify the overwhelmingly white male military and academic commentary literature that has erupted since September 11.

That’s what I want to read about: love and hope rising from the ashes of the World Trade Center and the minefields of Afghanistan and the rubble of Jenin; courageous, patient, ancient women rising from those low places to lead the world to peace by love and example; the disarming of terrified, impatient ancient men towering over those low places, leading the world to destruction by hatred and force.

I wanted to change George W.’s heart, and I still live with the hope that he will change. I live with love for his good side. I live with faith that God (George’s own divine spark) can help him change his choices; abandon vengeant, bitter, angry, hating actions; embrace the self-ness of each other person with whom he shares this physical and spiritual world.

I thought also that I would change, and I have. I started out confused and angry, wanting to do something to help change humanity’s course at this dark and pivotal moment in time. I was completely unable to settle and focus on what I could possibly do. I was mostly unlinked to a family, ideological action group or geographic community. I was hopelessly enraged at the “rich white men” I perceived as dragging the rest of us down into an earthly hell of human invention.

But I chose not to go on without hope. I remembered that I like writing letters and I’m good at it. So I started writing letters to George, to his good half, to strengthen the half of him reaching toward divinity and communion with all the natural world, to transform the half of him dragged down by greed, humiliation, fear, anger, pain.

What I have come to see, by doing this, is the remarkable power of seeing the world as a projection of the individual living her or his life in it. I have come to see the battle “in here” to conquer my anger, despair and hatred through the self-disciplined practice of faith, hope and love, as completely interwoven with the struggle “out there” for groups of people to be free to live and grow on their own terms too.

There is nothing new about this recognition. It is ancient, ancient wisdom. And it didn’t burst into my consciousness unbidden. I read and listened and thought and prayed and wrote. I cannot claim “originality” except in the sense that these are the original concepts at the root of humankind. I cannot claim “creativity” except that I have created this form of expressing those ancient ideas. I wrote these particular letters at this particular time to one particular man.

I made myself his existential pen pal.

So my intended audience is George, and the pacifists who continue to struggle against rather than with him, who have not yet seen that the best hope for all of us is to surround him in a web of love, support and compassion to help him birth/free his own best self. My audience is also the militants he “represents” and lives among: any individual human being who is enthralled by the terrible illusion that force -- hatred, violence, destruction -- can overcome evil -- hatred, violence, destruction. My audience is also my middle America brothers and sisters, literal and figurative, waiting to discover how they can get involved, and why
they might want to.

We are all in this together. There is no Them, only Us.

I think all pacifists already know that our main struggle is to calm the frightened, violent, angry, cornered, powerless sides of ourselves, projected large and loud in the physical forms of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Powell and Ashcroft.

I think all militants already know that our main struggle is to accept the loving, secure, naive, free, vulnerable, powerful side of ourselves projected small and silent in the forms of the youngest, poorest children in the world. Sometimes those good elements of human nature are projected on the world’s screen in the form of peaceful, free demonstrators filling the streets of cities around the globe.

I think all those uncommitted in the middle already know that their lives and daily choices are expressing their commitments, revealing their values, and that tiny changes, undertaken en masse, can make massive ripples.

In sum, even harsh thoughts and words are too rough to exchange. When we can stop calling each other judgmental names, I believe, physical disarmament will take care of itself. Global peace and justice will come from all sides. But force and repression will never make those harsh thoughts and words, or their gun and bomb manifestations, disappear. As A.J. Muste put it: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”

Put another way: the unending conflict of rocks, paper and scissors can be ended by an incessant drip of water: dissolving the paper that covers truth, rusting the scissors that cut flesh, wearing away the stone at the heart of insecurity.

Infinite thanks to Jesus, Gandhi, Virginia Woolf, Andrea Dworkin, Mary Daly, my husband, my son, my parents, Robin Morgan, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Howard Zinn, the Berrigan brothers, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Dar Williams, Ani Difranco, Anna Quindlen, Natalie Angier, Amy Goodman, Jane Addams, Caroline Rosenthal, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Rosie O’Donnell, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Cornel West, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, Eknath Eswaran, Benjamin Hoff, Greta Nagel, Anne Cameron, Susan Brownmiller, Barbara Kingsolver, John Russon, Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, Simone de Beauvoir, Mirto Stone, Carol Gilligan, Noam Chomsky, Susan Faludi, Germaine Greer, Teresa of Avila, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Barbara Lee, Mary Wollstonecroft, Shulamith Firestone Dale Spender, Hazel Henderson, Emily Martin, Vandana Shiva, Arundhati Roy, Deepak Chopra, Barbara Ehrenreich, Deidre English, all the others who have shared themselves, and those who I do not yet know but will, someday.

Spring 2002

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