Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chants Encounter

Just returned from an inspired, if freezing, protest against Israel's assault on Gaza. I worked with the main local peace group several years ago, performing stand-up at fundraisers and the like, but most of the members I dealt with were into "peace" as an abstract concept. There was little in the way of geopolitical discussion, especially when it came to Israel/Palestine, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Terror Wars in general. The people I spoke to merely wanted "peace" because, apparently, that's a good thing, which it is. But "peace" cannot exist outside of political arrangements -- not for masses of people, anyway -- so any effort in that direction requires a deeper understanding of prevailing institutions. For many of these members, that essentially translated into voting for Democrats. What else is new?

When I received word of the protest, I was immediately skeptical, if not cynical about it. Great, that's all we need -- a bunch of old hippies croaking out "Give Peace A Chance," urging drivers to honk their horns before returning home to herbal tea and NPR. So I had no plans to attend. But then a political list mate of mine emailed, suggesting that I go. Who knows? Maybe I'd meet at least one person who shared the same views, but felt it important to add their body to the throng. Given what Gazans are currently experiencing, a brief drive to a protest site isn't too much to ask. This swayed me, even though I was prepared for the standard peacenik routine.

While the usual suspects were indeed present, there were many more whom I never saw at one of these peace gatherings, primarily young Palestinian and Lebanese women who were very energetic, making me feel like the old farts I'd mocked. Still, it was bracing. Mothers and their children, young Muslims, a smattering of college kids, secular Arab and Jewish activists, all on pretty much the same page. A cabbie kept driving past us, flashing a thumb's down when not flipping us off. He was met with waves and smiles. Most other people were either indifferent or supportive, peace signs reaching out of SUV windows.

I had a nice discussion with a local Palestinian activist and a young Israeli woman who works with her. They were filled with genuine human spirit, warming my creaky bones in the face of winter cold. There was the ancient, "What do we want?! PEACE! When do we want it?! NOW!" chant (it's clearly time for some new material), but a few of the younger people spoke, including the Israeli woman, who gave a heartfelt speech about Israeli/Palestinian cooperation, which was met with nodding heads and applause. It lightened this craggy fuck's load a bit, despite the ongoing misery in Gaza. I must get away from the keyboard more often.