Preaching to the Choir in Athens, Ohio

Car, plane, car: all the connections from New York City to Colombus to Athens had been perfect. I slept well floated through the day’s interviews with ease, but at the scheduled 5 PM I thought no-one was coming but the few of us who were part of it. Surprise! They came to the hall that Ohio University had lent us on ‘Ohio’ time, in leisurely fashion, and by 5:30 they almost filled the 100 seats, and that, on such a fine, bright, blossom-filled Saturday afternoon, was a wonderful feat.

I let the 33 minute "Testimonies of Falluja" show as the auditorium filled. I kept the volume on High. Folks strolled in and then got pretty quiet pretty fast. It is a pretty serious DVD.

Back when I was at lunch with five of the Students for Peace and Justice, we had talked briefly about Ashley’s brother Adam who is doing a tour in Iraq. Just before I got started Ashley came to me with 2 framed photographs that Adam had sent home. Unexpected treasures; and I said, "the next time you talk to Adam please tell him that there are lots of people working very hard to get him home as soon as possible." I propped up the picture of the little kid waving and smiling at the side of the dusty road to Baghdad.

When the Falluja DVD ended I loaded up "Civilian Casualties" and let Rumsfeld’s introduction about how the US only uses smart weapons, and now we execute the war with minimum civilian casualties. The audience grumbled as they got the cruel joke. I turned off the volume and let the film run. I got down to work.

I had re-worked the Bogota speech a couple of weeks ago at gh’s place in Pennsylvania but I only used parts of it. During the day I had been
educated: a ride from the airport with Christy Truly of OU’s Appalachian Peace and Justice network; the breakfast with Melissa Wale of OH’s Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice; the 10 am radio interview with WOUB’s Bethany Mowry; the press interview at 11 with Jim Phillips of the Athens News; the lunch with the five SFPJ people.all served to let me talk more from the heart than from the page.

I tam so glad I went to Athens. I learned a lot about some middle-American activists, and "Putting a Human Face on ‘collateral damage’" is valuable even for those already engaged in peace and justice issues. Most of these people are currently putting at least some of their time into good works, and quite a number are devoting much of their lives. That doesn’t mean they already grasp the full meaning of the 80:1 ratio between military to civilian casualties in modern war. It doesn’t guarantee that their eyes are open to the terrible toll-the reality-of our political actions. Some knew, some learned.and that’s my job, I guess. Some were deeply moved and as I walked and talked (at the same time!) I was able to look deeply into faces of new friends and acquaintances as they grasped the horrible truth. There were some tears when I read Nesreen’s ‘Anniversary Letter.’

There is a public taciturnity in that part of Ohio that ended the Q&A session after only one Q and one A. However these people are not shy in a personal sense. Many came to talk afterwards, one to one. Some commented on my ability to synchronize my talk with the film without even glancing at it! They thought it a powerful touch. I had to admit I’d never even thought about it; that it was just a coincidence.

After another brief radio interview ten of us headed over to the town’s Indian Restaurant (The Star of India) to eat and talk, and talk. I did some math before dinner. The 80 people are about a half percent of Athens (20,000 students + 6,000 townies). That would be like talking to about a 80,000 New Yorkers.not bad, eh?

A good part of the dinner talk was ‘structural’. We discussed burn-out, task overload, and minimal resources, human and otherwise. We had one idea that could possibly work.

A small organization that has too many tasks and yet knows that there are people who want to do something but hesitate because they see the core people with work up to their eyeballs can:

  1. Break down the tasks into smaller tasks
  2. Make a list of the tasks
  3. Attach an estimate of how many hours a month would be needed for each
  4. Publish the list.

This will allow people to take on some task that fits their time needs, and the wont freak out at the prospect of having to devote their entire lives to the cause. Just an idea…

And then on the drive back to the airport (an hour and change to get to Columbus) Melissa and I were talking about how to energize the campus population. Remember, these are college students intensely pursuing grades and play. How about a Peace Sorority and its brother Peace Fraternity. Do these exist already? Is this worth a call to Kucinich? Just an idea…

In closing: (making this a speech about a speech):

There are creative and brave and persistent efforts emanating from the people of Athens, Ohio. There’s that lady who just can’t stop returning to Iraq to work with individuals and families who have become so painfully disconcerted by the chaos and injury of war. There’s the woman who travels around the world delivering mediation skills in troubled places. And those SFPJ students. They did a dinner at which people were chosen randomly to eat meals reflecting the proportional distribution of wealth in the surrounding counties. Some got only bread for dinner that night. And they keep right on going, and the young ones are strong and self-directed, and the old ones are graying, but smiling, and all of them are keeping the candle lit for the big P, Peace.

In loving kindness, with special thanks to Ashley, Sammie, Adam, Kelsey, Jess, and Jordan who give me hope for more peaceful tomorrows.

Filed in: Voices of Peaceful Tomorrows

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