US out of Iraq! – first person: movign the peace movement beyond the choir

When I saw this flyer calling for an independently organized peace rally at People’s Park in Berkeley, I put the date of the meeting directly in my organizer. The meeting brought me bolt upright in my seat and I set out to do what I could to help Terri and Lawrence and the rest of the gang get the job done. I ended up learning even more. Wanna hear about it?

I previously worked on the anti-war movement in a small military town in the South, where the locals organized against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11 — doing whatever seemed to stand a chance of stopping the war. I honed my skills flyering, handing out leaflets on the street, talking to active duty Navy and Marine GI’s at the Cafe I volunteered at, and enjoying the company of fellow activists at rallies and meetings. We all learned how to light and hold a candle. The climate was hostile but disorganized — the local social institutions didn’t know what to make of our shell-shock organizing. Thuggish military families sometimes confronted us, always on the verge of violence. One activist was pelted by frozen eggs from a car filled with scary black clad dudes in ski masks. We learned from it, wasted nothing, gained guts and commitment.

I used the peace organizing tactics I learned in the South in my efforts on the People’s Park peace rally, handing out fliers in all the unexpected places and to all the unexpected people that “activists” don’t usually visit.

I like inhabiting places that are shared with widely disparate groups. Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley features football players, military guys, tourists, drug dealers, thugs, college girls — there’s not much I have in common with most of these people. Take tourists, they drive me crazy — try to take pictures, “I’m not a postcard model, man.” But tourists come to check out the scene in the Bay Area — why not give them something to gape at and bring home with them that they’ll have to think about all year. Let them light your cigarette, give them a flyer, give them an exciting peace rally, a funny story, a good idea, a little street drama. They just might pay you back instead of sucking the life out of you, and it sure beats going cross-country to a far away peace rally. I am bored of that but I will if I have to. And you want to know something? At a peace rally in Berkeley when everybody’s got something to say to everybody, about everything, that’s a fucking special time and you better not miss it.

So if you want to go international and try to change the world, think about staying right here and working on changing the world here, first. Find the comfortable safe tourist destinations, the airports, the subway cars, because everybody’s gonna be there, everybody who’s not a shut-in or loaded or in a hospital or jail. Keep up the pressure — don’t lose your momentum. When I’m working the street handing out fliers against the war in Iraq, I can hear the roar of jet engines in my ears. Take the time to appreciate the company of like minded people. When you reach out beyond your comfort zone, you’re not preaching to the choir. In case you haven’t noticed the only choir we got is the Gay Men’s Chorus in SF, we need some new tunes! I mean I’m really into the bands that played in People’s Park — BACKBEAT WHISPER and ALL MY PRETTY ONES. FUNKY NIXONS — they sure got something to say but we need a new song — we need a new song — we need a new song. You better not just be preaching, they’re not a choir, they’re friends, and if you can reach out and touch people as humans, you’re keeping yourself from losing your mind.