Letter from the Road #13

Path of the Friend

Elias Amidon


The People Yes!


It is Sunday, the day after the massive international peace demonstrations. We here in Baghdad are so heartened by this historic event. Thank you world! It felt like a great prayer, a shout, an uprising sweeping across the land, a call for sanity against the insane accumulation of weapons and the war-making heritage of our species. The great historian Will Durant once calculated that in all of recorded history there has been only 29 years without war. And now, at last, the people are finding their power and linking arms across all that divides them and calling out to the politicians and the generals and the arms-dealers, “Stop this madness!”

Even here in Baghdad – you should have seen it – the first international peace march! We of the Iraq Peace Team began by hosting a large press conference, inviting all the other international delegations we knew of: “Bridges to Baghdad”, “Human Shields”, plus a large group of Okinawan musicians calling themselves “Weapons into Musical Instruments!” The hall was filled with TV and newspaper reporters, the Okinawans dressed in bright yellow and red, the Italians with their multi-colored flags, and Germans, Swedes, Spaniards, French, Slovaks, Poles, English, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Australians.

I began the briefing: “As we gather here this morning President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell are still asleep in their beds in Washington, D.C. We have come here to trouble their sleep, to trouble their sleep with dreams of people around the world coming out of their homes and workplaces this day to say no to war and yes to peace. By the time these men wake up, people all over the Middle East, Russia, and Europe will be on the streets. In a few hours they will be joined by millions of people across the United States and Canada, and beyond. We few hundred internationals here are their representatives in Baghdad. Together we are millions! May our voices be heard!”

After the leaders of each group gave a statement and answered questions we poured out onto the street and took up our banners. We couldn’t believe how big our procession had become – it stretched back several blocks and soon was joined by Iraqi children and mothers, an Iraqi Benedictine monk and Islamic clerics. The police blocked off the main street and let us march down the middle. Iraqis came out of their homes and shops, looking surprised to see all these smiling foreigners marching with their huge banners in Arabic, English, Italian, and Japanese calling for peace. By the time we had gone a mile crowds had gathered on the sidewalks to see us. The Okinawans were a great hit, chanting and singing with their huge red drums, spinning their drumsticks up into the air and leaping to catch them.

Then suddenly an Iraqi woman on the sidewalk started ululating in a high-pitched call. Another woman brought out a basket and began throwing bunches of candies up into the air over us. Another pulled blossoms from a basket of flowers and tossed them in front of us, and then embraced several of the women marchers. Further on, as we turned a corner, a larger crowd of men had gathered. Suddenly one of them started clapping, and another and another, until the whole crowd of Iraqis was applauding. It sounded like rain on a dry land, like something that would outlive all the distrust of the world.

We called out to them, “Asalaam aleikum!” (Peace be with you!) and several called back, “Wa Aleikum salaam, Iraqi!” (And to you peace, Iraqi!)

We proceeded up onto the Al Rasheed Bridge spanning the Tigris River. The bridge is a simple arc with low railings about a quarter of a mile in length. It commands a majestic view up and down the river. When we were all on the bridge our procession stopped and we spaced ourselves and our banners along one side. There we stood for a few moments in silence. The sun was shining and a light breeze billowed through the banners and peace flags. Then the TV and newspaper teams caught up with us and the march ended with individual interviews with them and much good feeling. We joked, “Have you heard? They called the war off! If there can be a peace march in Baghdad there will be thousands of them around the world!”

Of course, they haven’t called it off, at least not yet. We heard today the Americans have moved troops closer to the border. The Pentagon claims it will take Baghdad in a day, though the U.N. people here estimate they won’t be able to come back to Baghdad for three to six months because of unstable conditions.

If war does come, will this great movement for peace by the people of the world have been in vain? Will we have lost? No, as the marchers chant in dozens of languages, “The people, united, will never be defeated.” We are building new neural pathways for the human mind and the entire human project. It may take a little time, but once these landscapes of imagination have been opened they will not be closed again. We are using the threat of yet another war to collectively take a leap in human evolution. As a Carthusian monk once wrote, “The darkness of the future is the necessary space for the exercise of our liberty and our faith.”

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