By Chuck Kaufman (AFGJ National Co-Coordinator)
I have been hearing a lot lately that we need to be proactive; that we need to focus our work on positive things. If we believe that a better world is possible, we need to build that better world.
All that is true – up to a point.
Augusto C. Sandino, the Nicaraguan “General of Free Men”, had a vision. He, and a group that shared his vision, planned to start a utopian, self-sustaining and democratic commune where they could build their own version of a better world. But he knew that the commune would never be allowed to survive, much less thrive, while his country was occupied by US marines. So he led a successful, six-year guerrilla war from 1927-1933 to oust the foreign invaders. He left from a peace dinner with the country’s president thinking that he could finally lay down his sword and take up his plow. Instead
he was abducted by troops trained by the marines to keep “order” in their stead. To this day his body has not been found, his community remains a dream, and his country suffered through 45 years of US-supported dictatorship before the Sandinista Triumph in 1979.
To paraphrase a Christmas editorial in the 1897 New York Sun, “Yes, Virginia, there is evil in the world.”
The Mexican group, Las Abejas (The Bees), had a dream as well. They were a pacifist group of Zapatista supporters in the community of Acteal, Chiapas. On December 22, 1997, while in a prayer meeting at the Catholic Church, they were set upon by the paramilitary group Paz y Justicia (Peace and Justice). Forty-five people were slaughtered over several hours while the near-by Mexican army refused to intervene. Women and children were among those massacred including pregnant women who were stabbed or shot in the belly to insure that their unborn children did not survive.
Yes, Virginia, there is evil in the world.
On April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released a classified US military video, shot from the gun- site camera of an Apache helicopter, showing the indiscriminate killing in Iraq of over a dozen people including two Reuters news staff, and the wounding of two young children. The video included audio of the American soldiers glorying in the slaughter.
Yes, Virginia, there is evil in the world.
Torture at Abu Graib, indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, predator drones killing women and children in Pakistan, Israelis firing on unarmed Palestinians during the commemoration of Al Nakba (The Catastrophe), mass graves in Mexico, massacres in Guatemala, police firing US-donated tear gas canisters at demonstrators’ heads in Honduras, racist laws against immigrants, house raids and grand jury subpoenas for peace activists in the American Midwest, oh yes, Virginia, there is evil in the world.
After a decade in the current anti-war movement, a quarter century in Latin America solidarity, and a life-time of witnessing wars, coups, bombings, and democracy only for those who can pay for it, I’m tired and frustrated. It would be nice to weed my own garden for awhile, to grow and eat organic vegetables.
But more and more I look to the Abolition Movement, both slave and free, for my inspiration and my reason to go on. Slavery would not have ended without struggle. I don’t buy the myth that it was doomed by economic factors. That’s the story they tell us so we won’t believe that our struggles make a difference. No amount of focus on positive things, on personal fulfillment, on community joy would have lanced the awful pustule, that maggot-filled boil that was chattel slavery. Only through men and women, black and white, putting their lives, their fortunes and their health on the line to change the culture of their day, was this blot on our humanity eradicated from our shores.
No amount of prayer and meditation, no amount of giving to the poor, no amount of being nice to your maid or generous to her children brought about the Voting Rights Act, equal education, and an end to lynching and the Ku Klux Klan. No. It came about through human beings, white and black and brown, militantly wrestling with evil and accepting the beatings, the jailings, the killings that shocked the conscience of society. It came about because people like you and me refused to stop or be distracted until the laws and the culture which defended racial supremacy were changed and the process
of recognizing the humanness of us all could begin.
Mothers Day was not founded to honor our mothers; it was founded by mothers who had lost their sons in the Civil War as a way for them to demand an end to war.
So yes, let us focus on the positive. Let us build our sustainable communities. Let us practice our yoga or religion or whatever gives us personal strength and fortitude to carry on. But let us never forget that there is evil in the world; evil that has the capability to destroy all our good works. Let us never mistake actions that make us feel good with actions that are necessary. If we are to build a better world, we must first defeat the evil that makes this one so bad for so many. There is no other way forward than through struggle.
As citizens and residents of the country that is the greatest threat to world peace, the greatest threat to human survival, we have a moral obligation to struggle against evil. To react IS to focus on the positive. We are at a moment in history when it is not possible to live a moral life, when it is not possible to build a better world, unless we are every day on the barricades struggling to end the wars, struggling to cut the bloated Pentagon budget, struggling to stop the corporate rape of the environment, struggling for an end to Empire and corporate greed.
In reality, it is a false dichotomy to say we have to be either reactive or proactive. We have to be both. No matter how tired or frustrated we feel at times, our lives are easy.
Very few of us don’t know how we will feed our children tonight. Very few of us worry that we will be killed by paramilitaries or police on our way home from work. Very few of us live with the stress of knowing that a knock on the door could end our freedom or a hellfire missile through the roof could end our life. The truth is, we really do have the capacity to work on those things which we believe will build a better world while at the same time we struggle against those things which inhibit its birth. We really have no other choice.
“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” – Thomas Paine