We are living in a profoundly dangerous moment.
We write as members of the coordinating committee of United for Peace and Justice, a national network of peace groups. We are long-time activists and mothers of grown children. We worry that violence in America is spinning out of control. There is a multitude of alarming crises facing our country and the world which can overwhelm and paralyze us, preventing us from taking action. But there are things we can do. We want to address some of these issues and suggest positive actions we can take.
Across the U.S., hate speech emanating from a resurgent white nationalist movement is further dividing our country and erupting in violence.
There is tremendous inequality in our country; 40% of Americans struggle every day to make ends meet and have legitimate fears about their future. The white nationalist movement capitalizes on these fears and emotions with rhetoric that demonizes “others.” This movement spreads the idea that these undeserving “others” are working the system and depriving “real” Americans, when, in fact, the economic struggles people face are due to the rigged system that overwhelmingly showers financial benefits on the ultra-rich and corporations.
Too many people are falling prey to this language and its powerful but misguided message. FBI Director Wray recently told lawmakers that the majority of domestic terrorism involved some sort of white supremacist ideology.
After so many mass shootings people are nervous about shopping, going to the movies, attending religious services, night clubs or large outdoor events. And many are terrified to send their children to school. The epidemic of mass shootings puts at risk the lives of anyone living in or visiting the United States.
At political rallies and on Twitter our President uses “us versus them language” stoking fear, resentment, and anger to rile up his base. It also has emboldened the white nationalist movement.
Unfortunately, the President’s language and the quiet acquiescence it receives from Republican leadership provides the movement with a veneer of respectability, persuading many of its validity.
Demeaning and dehumanizing language is the first step in creating a justification that some people are “sub-human” and maybe legitimately mistreated, attacked or killed. This language has a long history and deep roots in America. It is difficult to acknowledge this uncomfortable reality, but it is something we must face and then dismantle.
Families, friends, and neighbors avoid talking to each other about what is happening. We are all aware that there are deep divisions in our country, but instead of addressing the things that divide us, we avoid them. Better to keep the peace than have another toxic shouting match with people we love and deeply care about. We must not close the door on discussion, we must work to understand each other.
An informative article entitled “The Art of Navigating a Family Political Discussion, Peacefully” provides excellent advice from Sarah Holland and Beth Silvers, who have different political viewpoints. They hope to “teach Americans how to have productive, civilized conversations about politics with their friends and family members”. They have also written a book entitled “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)”.
We speak for a difficult truth. We need a moment of reconciliation We must stand up for the country we want to see evolve out of these divisions into a better society for all. In our view, continued silence is dangerous; silence implies consent. It is our duty to speak out.
With that in mind, we need to ask some tough questions. Where is the preparation and planning for making the world livable and safer for all people?
The United States has been at war for nearly 20 years with constant preparation for war and constant threats of new wars—threatening nuclear war has been a feature of every administration since 1945. The United States has been at war for nearly 20 years with constant preparation for war and constant threats of new wars—threatening nuclear war has been a feature of every administration since 1945. A new extremely dangerous nuclear arms race is underway among the nuclear-armed nations, in violation of their treaty obligations to disarm.
Meanwhile, Planet Earth is nearly out of time, with a climate crisis so great that scientists have recently said Arctic permafrost is melting at a rate 70 years ahead of their forecasts.
This fall marks the 50th anniversary of the historic anti-war “March Against Death.” For two days tens of thousands of people conducted a silent march from Arlington National Cemetery past the White House, each carrying a placard with the name of a soldier killed in Vietnam or a village destroyed by the U.S. in the war. People walked through the rain, at night with candles, and hour after hour placed placards in coffins at the Capitol Building. The culmination was a rally attended by half a million people protesting that war.
We need to organize a new March Against Death to unite the dissent across our nation. We could march carrying all the names of the people killed in mass shootings; by police violence; the soldiers and civilians killed by war; the refugees who died seeking asylum or while in detention; and the journalists and environmentalists who died trying to inform the public, adding the billions of species that are dying in the ongoing 6th great extinction that humans beings have brought about by our folly. The focus would be global, the realization national, so that we might contemplate the scope of all that is lost or in danger of being lost.
Such a march would likely take weeks. Millions of people could join in and keep it going until the politicians who are making such a spectacular botch of political affairs respond appropriately to the emergencies that confront us daily.
We seek to remind those engulfed by hate and those carrying out violent actions, that despite great attempts throughout history to exterminate peoples, somehow, enough of the hated ones survived and continued to perpetuate their lineage.
As we face endless wars and the climate emergency with dwindling resources available to humanity, and while famines and lack of water become paramount as facts of life in ways we are not prepared for, those of us who hold to an idea of a common humanity will have to confront these greatest of challenges.
To have a chance at survival, human beings, as a very basic step, will have to avoid turning to extreme violence against peoples perceived as “other.” It would be a first in human history.
We face a multitude of challenges and we admire those already doing the work. But for real change to happen, it is going to take all of us. We can all do something. Let’s start in our homes, with our neighbors and co-workers. We need to have those difficult discussions, respectfully listening to better understand each other. Getting to know each other allows us to see the human dignity of each and every person. It allows us to see that we are not each other’s enemies; that we all want and need the same things. The benefits of a world based on the common good, instead of an “us versus them” world has never been more urgently needed.
By uniting as common humanity, we can ultimately address the enormous challenges facing us. Such a path is the one that our children and future generations need us to chart for a livable, more peaceful world. It is our collective responsibility to ensure it happens.
*Headline is a quote by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Mary Hladky is a long-time member of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) which is a UFPJ member group. She began her work with United for Peace & Justice in 2010 as a member of the Afghanistan Working Group and been a member of the UFPJ Administrative Committee since 2012.
Thea Paneth is a coordinating committee member of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), a national peace coalition founded in 2003.