Jan 30, 2016 Of war, insufficient due process, and peace activists
Peace demonstrator Concepcion Picciotto passed away on January 25. She may hold the national record for the longest political demonstration, having had few interruptions in sitting across the White House daily with her pro-peace signs and leaflets, until she more recently found people to help her keep the peace vigil running as a result of curtailing her visits after an accident. Had her vigil cohort William Thomas (who wanted to be called Thomas) lived beyond his 2009 passing, he might have shared or took over that distinction
Having regularly passed them many times in 1988 to 1991 walking to and from my first law firm two blocks and seemingly worlds away from their vigil, I spoke with Thomas and Concepcion various times. I do not know how effective their efforts were, except that having a daily peace protest there probably advanced their cause more than if the vigil had never been there.
Over the decades, numerous other demonstrators came to Lafayette Park for various stretches of time during various causes and wars, while Concepcion’s and Thomas’s vigils remained constants The First Amendment was involved here, as the park police actively attempted to enforce a distinction between demonstrating and camping (prohibited), and were at the ready to seize unattended demonstration material structures. Thomas and Connie dealt with arrests for their vigil activities, and Thomas served a 90-day jail stretch at one point.
Over the years, my most important involvement with peace activists has been my time with my teacher Jun Yasuda and numerous other monastics in her peace-promoting Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order, and my 2000 criminal trial defense with Ramsey Clark of Plowshares peace activists who hammered on two depleted uranium-firing A-10 warplanes (hammering swords into plowshares), and poured blood onto the planes (the blood of Jesus cleansing people’s sins).
I myself am not and have never been a full pacifist, and believe in the necessity of an effective military, but believe that the American war machine is grossly overgrown, and that war is too often executed prematurely when diplomacy and other non-war solutions should be pursued. Aside from Bernie Sanders, which of the viable presidential candidates are speaking of better controlling the American war machine, and who among the electorate is pushing such a path?
The national security rubric includes war, war defense, assassinations, domestic spying, the Constitutional due process violations of Guantanamo and military tribunals, American officials detaining and interrogating suspected terrorists abroad and getting them sent to countries that will give them less due process than the United States, and domestic prosecutions. The national security state feeds the power of the American government to a point that American government has become a far cry from the government serving rather than dominating the governed.
War of course does little to secure due process against deprivation of life and liberty. Bombs do not distinguish between civilians and opposing soldiers, let alone distinguishing terrorists from civilians. In wartime, a slew of soldiers — overall with insufficient relevant important life experience and skills, which also characterizes most rookie police officers — are tasked with deciding when and where to shoot; that is scary to say the least. War is antithetical to civil liberties, democracy and an open society. The American war and national security machine reinforces the police state in which we live.
We need peace activists to keep on everyone’s radar the dangers of America’s overgrown war machine and national security state, no matter how quixotic some of their messages and priorities may seem.