About the Author
Alex Winnett

Interfaith Peace Witness and 10,000 Feet of Hope

On March 7th, thousands of faithful peace activists will converge on Washington DC in order to pray for peace. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Quakers and Unitarian Universalists will worship, pray and march together in the name of peace and justice.

Sponsored by the Olivebranch Peace Partnership, an interfaith coalition of religious peacemakers of which the Unitarian Universalist Association is a member, this rally will bring a religious voice that will speak truth to power.

As religious people who love creation, peace and equality, we are tired of an illegal and immoral war in the Middle East. We are disgusted by thousands of displaced refugees in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are embarrassed by the dehumanizing effects of war on our citizen soldiers and the terrible treatment of our veterans after their return home. And we are afraid of future wars with no planned end.

Unitarian Universalists will gather together on March 7th at All Souls, Unitarian in Washington DC where they will hear the inspiring words of our President, Rev. William G. Sinkford along with Rev. Robert Hardies and guests from the Unitarian Universalist Community. We will then join the larger interfaith community in the shadow of the Capitol Building.

As a united voice, we will call for an end to this war and promote peaceful means to transform our conflicts.

For more information on this event, please visit http://www.olivebranchinterfaith.org and download our flier.

We recognize this may not be an event that all can attend. However, even if you cannot be there in person, your congregation’s thoughts and prayers for peace can be present with our 10,000 feet of hope.

We are asking all religious communities to send a rope with prayers and hopes for peace tied to it to be sent to Washington DC. We will then take these ropes-of-hope and encircle the Capitol Building with our prayers for peace.

Please send your Rope-of-Hope by March 1st to:
10,000 Feet of Hope
c/o Clarendon Presbyterian Church
1305 N. Jackson St.
Arlington, VA 22201

And may we all share in a prayer for peace.

Working the Gears of Democracy

If you live in a state that has already participated in the Primary Election season, and your state holds primaries (as opposed to caucuses), what you may have witnessed is something like this: long lines of agitated voters, older poll workers who move slowly, and possibly difficulties casting your ballot.

I should know, I was there. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia hosted their regional primary yesterday—the so called “Potomac Primary” or the “Chesapeake Primary”, or even the “Crab Cake Primary.” I was there, working the polls.

Working the gears of Democracy was hard. But it was worth it. I would not have traded the experience for anything. Working for democracy was absolutely amazing. I met neighbors. I learned things about their families, friends and faith communities. I met young and old alike. I met people from black, white, Latino and Asian communities. Experienced voters and first-timers, born citizens, new residents and recent immigrants, they all came together to vote-as Americans. It was beautiful.

While I was working the polls, I had the whole day to think of ways to make the voting process smoother. These include, but are not limited to:

Making Election Day a national holiday
Implementing same day voter registration
Opening up the closed primary system

But what would have really made the day go smoother and easier would not require policy change at all. Instead, it would require a one day sacrifice of over 500,000 extra people.

I say 500,000 because an Associated Press article from 2004 reported that The United States lacked a total of 500,000 poll workers. A half a million poll workers who could help people cast their ballots in a safe and accurate matter.

In a world of hanging chads, and miscount ballots, and people turned away from the door, it’s easy to posit vast government conspiracies between Diebold, the Supreme Court and Karl Rove. But, think of a world in which there were enough passionate, engaged, and competent people to fully staff all the polls in America and just how differently our elections would look. Imagine every voter knowing to check their chads. Imagine enough people to accurately count ballots. And imagine enough workers to inform all voters their rights.

This is not to demean my fellow poll workers. But let’s face it, we were outnumbered. There were just 5 of us, working a total of 8 positions. There were many more people voting than we expected–more than 700 people in a six block radius came to vote. For thirteen hours, I worked on my feet, often forgoing meals to help people cast their ballot. We had retired women working the entire day as quickly and accurately as they could—even when people a third their age were yelling at them. These hard working poll workers made this whole thing work.

That is why I am urging you to sacrifice one day of your time to volunteer at the polls for your next elections. It gives you an opportunity to work for democracy, help your neighbors and be part of history. Please call your local board of elections to find out how you could work the polls for your next election. I’ll be there!

Have We Won Yet?

My original intention was to name this blog post, We Have Won The War: Now, Let’s Finish The Job. But I know it is dangerous to be declaring “Mission Accomplished” too soon. And what I really mean is this: the anti-war movement has done an amazing job. And we might as well call this one a success.

But…wait! What do I mean by calling the movement a success? The war is still raging. Troops are still on the ground. The budget for the battles is skyrocketing. The death toll is high. And there is no end in sight. How could it be that we have succeeded?

And you are right on all those points. Time wise, we have put our troops in harm’s way somewhere between the active combat eras of World War II and Viet Nam. We still have troops in Korea, stationed on the Demilitarized Zone—that place between North and South Korea where American Troops keep patrol, fifty years later. Talk of another “Surge” strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is frightening because, just like Korea, there seems to be no way out.

People turn to me and ask: What is wrong with Your generation? Why aren’t they out in the streets like Viet Nam?

Massive rallies and protests like we saw in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s are important and crucial tactics necessary to the success of a movement. But they are not the movement. Being wed to a tactic is counterintuitive and counterproductive to the growth of a movement. Without lobbying, creating new alternatives for social structures and international relations, gathering research and support, or working with changing landscapes, a movement will become mired in a crisis mode. No sustainable growth can come out of that.

Being stuck in one strategy creates room for dangerous tactics. Movements begin to find themselves panicking with the fear that nothing is happening. That the cause is dying and that we need one last radical—and often violent—grasp at success. But destructive tactics often alienate and burn out people who are loyal to the movement, thus causing more harm than good. Power holders know this and know how to capitalize on opponents’ radical tactics to help discredit the people’s movement.

While it is extremely important to keep focused on all our goals, ignoring our success in this struggle is deadly for the success of the movement. People’s movements take time. They work to create the small changes that make up the big changes. We cannot expect a few protests and rallies to change things overnight. As Mr. Rogers once said, “All things that are worthwhile surely do take a while.”

What if a five-year-old just completes Hop on Pop by herself for the first time? Do you hand her Proust next? What if your seven-year-old takes the training wheels off his bike? Do you send him to the Tour Du France? Sustainable social change takes time.

Rather, at this time when it looks like movement is coming to an end, we must reject nihilistic strategies and count our successes. Giving up due to an apparent “failure” will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. But counting our successes gives us the spiritual recharge necessary to counteract the feelings of burnout.

So what exactly have we done in less than five years? The successes are many. They include but are not limited to:

Participation rates of national protests may have slipped but local, grassroots efforts have increased. Organizations like Iraq Veterans Against War, Women Against Military Madness, and Military Families Speak Out have started. And older organizations like War Resistors League, American Friends Service Committee, and The School of Americas Watch have all seen increased participation. All of these organizations are working hard to create sustainable, lasting social change. This war has left an extremely bitter taste in our mouths. Real change to prevent future wars is done by institutions and individuals utilizing a plethora of techniques and tactics.

Do not be disappointed by the lack of success the movement has seen. Be proud of all the things we have done! As a movement, we have repeatedly countered the tactics of the power holders. We have stood up for real American values. We have put pressure on our government to end this war and bring every one home safely. And while there is much to do, so much has already been completed. Be proud of your anti-war movement; have faith in it.