What's a Pacifist to Do?
A tale of two demonstrations.
Patti Mallin, PeaceNet
Living in a suburb of Washington, DC, presents all sorts of
opportunity for national-level activism, and observation thereof.
Wednesday, March 31 was such an opportunity. As the PeaceNet
coordinator I try to keep my eye on the actions taking place here
in the neighborhood, so that I can cover them for IGC, if only in
photos. I learned from the network that on March 31st, there
would be not one but two demonstrations related to the NATO air
strikes in Yugoslavia. I packed up the camera and prepared to
spend the day in front of the White House.
Shortly after 11
A.M., I arrived in Lafayette Park to attend a
rally sponsored by the National Albanian American Council. It
was promoted as a rally to "Stop the Genocide." I was prepared
for an emotional experience, but not at all ready for what I
actually encountered. I will say at the outset that I am
horrified at the slaughter and the violent displacement of ethnic
Albanians in Kosova. In my heart and in my mind I know this
needs to stop. I was expecting to be swept up in the moment.
As I approached
I saw a large crowd waving American Flags
shouting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" I wondered if I was in the wrong
place. It reminded me of the Olympics or a national political
party convention. As I got closer the Albanian flags came into
view. I did see much of what I anticipated -- parents and
children worried about their grandparents, people chanting about
independence for Kosova, and bringing an end to the genocide.
But then my stomach turned.
There was a
NATO pep rally going on around me. Adults and
children alike yelling, "Bomb, NATO, bomb!" Signs saying "Send
in the ground troops!" And a Yugoslavian flag was burned. I
know very clearly that these are people whose families are being
executed, or driven from their homes. I know they feel like
every peaceful alternative has been exhausted. "We signed the
peace accord, we lived up to our part." But it really truly
stunned me to see the vehement call for more violence. There was
no shortage of passion in this rally. Granted most participants
had been bussed in from other cities as Washington has a very
small Albanian community, but orchestrated or not the passion was
From the stage, speaker after speaker -- representing the
administration, Albanian-American organizations, the American
Jewish Committee and others demanded stronger actions from NATO.
"The only solution is to get troops on the ground as soon as
possible." "NATO must be on the ground as soon as possible."
"Inaction would deepen despair." Only the former ambassador to
Albania acknowledged that bombing meant more killing, not less.
My heart broke a
little more when a child spoke from the stage
and said, "I may only be nine years old, so I don't kow how to
bring Milosevic to the bargaining table. I do know the only way
to stop him is to bomb him."
What's a pacifist to do? I can't bring myself to believe that
dropping bombs or sending in ground troops is a morally
responsible action. And yet, what are the alternatives?
So later in the day I crossed the street to the White House
where a "Stop the Bombing" protest was taking place. Here's
where I'd find my answers about the alternatives. Here's where
my pacifist leanings would be strengthened again. At least that
is what I thought.
What I found was a protest without heart or soul. The
passion, the spirit I saw earlier was nowhere in evidence. I saw
mostly the usual suspects walking their slow oval on the sidewalk
in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, being led through a series
of chants. "Clinton, Clinton, you can't hide, bombing equals
genocide!" Yes, I agree. But tell me something more than that
dropping bombs is bad. Tell me what to do. Help me think this
There were more
tourists pushing past the line of sign-bearers to
peer through the fence at the White House than in the protest
itself. Most folks took a photo and moved on. A man approached
me and asked if he could tell me why he was protesting. I
eagerly said, "Yes, please do!" and he handed me a photocopied
sheet of paper and walked away. It basically said that bombing
Please tell me I don't have to choose between escalated bombing
and escalated ethnic cleansing. What's a pacifist to do?