Confessions of a peace passivist

I invite my teens to the Monday night peace vigil in Reno. This vigil is in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., the celebration of whose birthday earned them a day off.

“You mean you’re against the war?” my son says, straight-faced.

He briefly considers leaving the house and going out in the chilly night to stand with strangers in front of the Thompson Federal Building.

“What do you expect to accomplish?” he asks.

I mumble something about taking a stand, but I’m less than enthusiastic. After all, people across the nation have been protesting war since the United States began dropping bombs on Afghanistan in 2001.

Four years of peace vigils, protests, and marches later, and our nation is still engaged in two bloody, futile wars. No one talks about Osama bin Laden anymore—unless it’s as an excuse for launching American bombs into Pakistan.

I haven’t been one of the stalwarts meeting on street corners and protesting in front of military recruitment offices. I occasionally rant about loss of innocent lives, the valued sacrifice of young well-meaning troops for dubious, unclear reasons (spreading democracy by force?) and the financial cost of this huge windfall for Lockheed-Martin, Halliburton and other war profiteers.

But action? I’ve been light on that.

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it,” Martin Luther King Jr. said. “He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Guilty as charged.

I bundle up and head out. Members of Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace, at times only a handful, have met at 5:30 p.m. every Monday night for more than four years. The turn-out for MLK’s birthday vigil is considered strong, about 20 people.

Here’s an anomaly for the group: A photographer from Channel 8 is here for MLK Day, and he tapes the group singing “Happy Birthday, Martin.” Media, as you might expect, is usually scarce.

We read a nonviolence pledge in which we promise not to return insults from bystanders. (We hear a couple of drive-by shouts but more supportive honks than anything.) No drugs or alcohol. No weapons ever. If arrested, “we will not resist or go limp,” but respect authorities.

Arrest seems unlikely though I spot a few police officers watching from the shadows. A security guard eyes us from inside the federal building. While we’re singing “We Shall Overcome,” a helicopter flies low over the building, drowning out the song.

King’s words are read aloud. I’m moved by this American hero’s commitment to non-violent activism and by his positive vision for the future:

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies—or else? The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

Fear can’t be fought with fear. King said: “If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in the struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.”

We have to do something. Opportunities abound: The Reno Anti-War Coalition’s counter-State of the Union address is 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, also in front of the federal building.

From 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at the First United Methodist Church, activists fold origami cranes, which are sent to Congress. The first and third Friday of each month, from 7 to 10 p.m., activists meet for Poetry Peace and Music at Dreamer’s Coffeeshop.

What if we anti-war passivists started to show up, speak out?

“Take the first step in faith,” King said. “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”