June 10, 2009

Bellingham City Council Forum Recap

"...I needed to hear the simple truth: war is wrong, violence should be abhorred, and life is sacred."

Hello Everyone,

Last night was the city forum on issues surrounding AWOL soldiers and making Bellingham a sanctuary city for war resisters. I can speak only for myself, but I think that last night was an incredible learning experience. I want to thank everyone who came out to show their support, and to those who spoke. It is not an easy thing to do in front of so many people, and so many different opinions. I was so proud to be part of a group of people who listened respectfully to every word, and spoke with grace and humility. There is much to be learned from how we conduct ourselves in these situations. I also deeply appreciated the comments made by those in opposition, and particularly the people who had put a lot of thought into what they wanted to say and did so in a peaceful manner. It amazes me how things can become so politically charged, when at the core we believe in so many similar issues.

I am sorry to those who were unable to speak because of the time limit. I know your voice would have added a lot to the discussion. If you wish to let the city council know how you feel, they have requested that you write letters or e-mails at council's email stating that you were at the forum and were unable to speak, and letting them know how you feel about these issues.

The big question is, “What now?” and it is a difficult one to answer. Although there are many of us who wholeheartedly believe in the political stance of a Sanctuary City for AWOL soldiers, I think the more important issue right now is: what are we actually going to do to support our veterans, and support and protect the soldiers going AWOL? I think it is an incredible step that our city council members are willing to host a discussion about these issues (THANK THEM!!).

The first step that needs to be taken on our own is researching these issues and continuing to discuss them with our community. I encourage you all to read as much as you can about the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and desertion in the military, and to come to your own conclusions. We must also learn the language of all sides, which will help at least develop an understanding of the culture we live in that is feeding the cycle of occupation, colonization, and war.

The forum will be aired on BTV10 tomorrow, June 10th at 12:00 PM. Stay tuned for what’s next, and remember that as MLK, jr. stated, 
“The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.” 
If people feel the need to gather and talk about last night’s event, we are beginning to plan a gathering to facilitate this discussion. Please stay in touch. Here are some words from Evan Knappenberger.

In Peace and Love,
Channing Showalter and Nick Spring
Bellingham GI sanctuary coordinators

Dear Sanctuary Friends,

The last several weeks have been a challenging time for humanity. It seems at times like the wolf is waiting right outside our door, but when we speak truth to fear we wield a power far greater than our own. When I spoke tonight at the town hall forum, and even before the doors opened as I was surrounded by a mob of republicans insulting me and threatening me, I experienced something quite amazing. I felt myself in a trance-like possession: my hair stood on end, and I swooned and nearly fell over. But instead of succumbing to fear, what I experienced instead was truly humbling.

I should preface this by mentioning that I am currently facing a terrifying ordeal in my personal emotional life, and that I have not been well for some time. But in the midst of that gripping fear of being surrounded by enemies, and on the verge of an emotional breakdown, I felt a presence acting through me which I will never forget: I let go of my fear and my emotional pain: the words that came felt like they were armed with a truth that was irreproachable. I will always remember what happened to me tonight: that by letting go and giving my will over to something deep inside me I have somehow cured a part of myself. I wish to share this feeling with you, and another thought, but first I would like to thank all of you for your support.

When the movement to abolish slavery was founded, it was by a tiny group of like-minded people. By speaking truth to fear, and through their faith in knowing that what they were doing was right, those dozen people endured and effected a lasting, miraculous transformation in the hearts of their fellow human beings. I am honored to be a part of such a movement, no matter what else may happen to me. I am proud of all of you who support the Sanctuary movement in body and in spirit, and I am grateful to you all.

Six years ago, right here in Bellingham as the Iraq war was starting, hundreds of truckers broke the law in an open show of intimidation aimed at the peace vigilers on their usual corner. They drove through the traffic lights blaring their horns and waving flags and cursing the Peace people. They thought that with their flawed and emotive arguments --if they screamed loud enough-- they would silence the conscience of this city. Fortunately they were wrong, and the peace movement survived that moment.

Tonight the same war-supporting mob of fearful irrational people thought that they could overpower those of us who know what it means to be a human being with a conscience. Not only were they wrong --we spoke with moving conviction!-- but we have won a greater victory with our testimony. We have managed, by bringing all of them to one place and giving them the truth from our hearts, to shatter their paradigms of honor, patriotism and blind militarism.

While their side was engaged in emotive polemics, unable and unwilling even to listen, we endured. Our side listened intently despite the painful provocations of their illogical jabs (like the one they made at the name of the Native American moderator), and we demonstrated a remarkable collective restraint (myself included). While their side persisted in worn perfidies disguised as patriotism, we shifted their paradigms of honor, justice and violence. Even better, I think that by confronting them on these their most tightly held beliefs, they were visibly shaken. Any reaction- anger, surprise, disgust- is a shift for them. We have to come to realize in the end that these people never thought deeply about these issues before.

I know it sounds stupid, but I was one of them a few years ago. I remember one night in Iraq on all-night duty when I looked up anti-militarist liberal propaganda on the internet. A good conservative patriot, I felt sick to my stomach reading the American Friends Service Committee website. I was angered. I was disgusted. I was outraged. But then I shifted.

The anger faded. The disgust turned to despiar, because in my heart I knew that the object of my disgust was inherently truthful. The outrage remained, though, and is now focused in an opposite direction from the peace community. All of this because I needed to hear the simple truth: war is wrong, violence should be abhorred, and life is sacred. There were very little special effects, and now I hold these values very close to my core being. I think that every time we expose people to the truth, no matter how they appear to not be listening, something similar happens. Certainly by challenging the dominant themes of militarism, faux-patriotism and imperialism, we can do little wrong.

Six years ago something like what happened tonight would have been unthinkable. In fact, it was impossible even to attend the weekly peace vigil without risking violent confrontation, let alone stand in support of AWOL humans against federal law. The fact that we are even here is a major accomplishment, and I am eternally amazed and in awe of all of your dedication to doing what is right. Thank you all so much for what we have done together. Let us celebrate our survival and our victories!

In solidarity and gratitude,
-thanks to Bellingham GI Sanctuary City

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