Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace by Carolyn Bolton
“The trouble with anger is that it makes us overstate our case and prevents us from reaching awareness. We often damage our case by anger. It is like resorting to war.” ~ Anaïs Nin
Long a rumor within activist circles, it is now mainstream media news. The FBI has invested dozens of years and millions of dollars collecting extensive information on the identities and activities of American antiwar activists. They claim their “intelligence-gathering efforts” are aimed at identifying anarchists and “extremist elements" who plot violence to draw attention to war. Efforts are validated as post-9/11 homeland terrorism prevention.
Civil rights advocates and legal scholars loudly denounce the monitoring program, warning a return to the abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, when J. Edgar Hoover was FBI director and routinely spied on political protesters like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. – effectively blurring the lines between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience. I agree, and so do most folks I know.
A sad and simple truth does exist, and it is often missed by those of us who believe war is not the answer. The reality is that there is a proven potential for violence at anti-war protests, and there are intense individuals with far-from-peaceful approaches working within the peace movement. The actuality of hostile activist behavior is a reality now being used to validate the FBI’s formerly clandestine interest in activists generically. Finally “the feds” have a foothold firmly founded in truth, enabling them to launch fear-based spin that is gaining strength and credibility.
I remember clearly when I was first labeled an activist. Through the 1990s, I traveled every summer to Whidbey Island in the San Juan Islands to engage with folks from across the globe, studying together for several weeks and spending hours in dialogue to ponder conditions on our planet. When a close friend commended my role as an activist, I was incredulous that anyone who knew me so well could possibly label me with that term. I’d never disrupted a public meeting nor shouted angry epitaphs at a public rally or organized march, nor had I ever engaged in criminal activity in the name of change. No notches were carved on the gun handle of my life memorializing civil disobedience arrests. The label of activist was simply not a reasonable descriptor for me.
It took several years for me to realize that my strong positions on issues of war, the economy, social justice and human rights – and my candor in voicing my opinions – do indeed bump me over that line. My pattern of speaking my non-mainstream truth does, frankly, constitute revolutionary behavior. And I have many wonderful traveling companions in my chosen upstream swim through life.
But here’s a confession I’ve never made openly: I chafe in the presence of many self-proclaimed activists. I don’t believe in angry rhetoric that repeatedly lambastes the idiocy and ills of an incompetent government. I have deep questions about “waging” peace in mirror-image linguistic style to the language of waging war. I am confounded by the peace movement’s propagation of the age-old, destructive dichotomy of “us and them” – with “us” always professing to have the only accurate view/approach and “them” constantly pummeled as deficient in morality and intellect. I’ve made brief forays into organized peace groups, but always left after bearing sad witness to patterns of behavior that mimic the war hawks themselves: intolerance of all ideas except the dominate message of the group, lack of willingness to listen to varied points of view, individuals with a driving need for personal power and leadership by (verbal) force, intolerance, disrespect, uncontrolled anger, battles for dominance, rhetoric of hate.
It seems very likely to me that, underlying the modern peace movement, there has always existed an unhealed layer of agonizing grief. Grief so painful that righteous rage provides an effective analgesic. We would rather feel strong in our anger than impotent in our sorrow. Yet at the heart of effective nonviolence – at the center of the potential for true peace – it is essential that there be love.
Dr. Martin Luther King said it best, that darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Now that the FBI has admitted they’re paying close attention to us, let’s unite our hearts in a revolution that will fundamentally transform the peace movement activist by activist, from the inside out. Let’s not just talk about trying a different way – let’s truly live it.
Carolyn Bolton’s vocational activities are centered around mediation, training, public policy and organizational development. An ordained nondenominational minister, she finds her bliss in the practices of writing, music and theater. You may write Carolyn at [email protected].