Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I have blogged before about how it is so hard to have true dialogue between the left and the right. There are so many misconceptions on both ends. I saw this dramatically in DC; last Friday night, we stood in vigil in front of Walter Reed Memorial, where thousands of wounded soldiers have been admitted in the dead of night (so we, the public, can also be kept in the dark, unaware of the true cost of war.) CODEPINK holds a weekly vigil there to try to raise awareness, holding signs that say things like "Love the troops, hate the war", as well as "Real Support=Better Benefits" and "Support them when they're home" (referencing the fact that our administration wants to cut VA benefits, and many soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder remain undiagnosed because the system wants to cycle them out.) The weekly vigil is a somber one, silent and respectful and candlelit. In recent months, a counter protest has sprung up across the street, with people holding signs that say things like "CODEPINK IS PURE EVIL" and "CODEPINK doesn't care" and nonsensical things like "CODEPINK's fake vigil funds terrorist organizations" and "CODEPINK feeds the alligator so it won't eat them first." They chant "Shame on CODEPINK! Leave the wounded alone!", which is kind of ironic, since we are at Walter Reed specifically because our government is leaving the wounded alone once they are discharged from the hospital. If we were to have a true dialogue across the street, I wonder if the counter-protestors would be able to understand how deeply we care about our troops, how deeply we care about our world. And maybe we'd be able to understand how deeply the other side cares, as well. We wouldn't be out on the street, either side of it, if we didn't care.

Yesterday, in an article about Cindy Sheehan's arrest, I read a quote from someone who called the anti-war protestors lemmings. Of course, from our point of view, those who are blindly faithful to Bush often look like lemmings who can't think for themselves. It is so hard to know how to find human connections between the two sides, how to have true communication that doesn't devolve into a shouting match.

After the march on Saturday, I walked to the Lincoln Memorial—so inspiring--and then to the Vietnam Memorial, which is heartbreaking in its simplicity, its scope. So many names on those smooth black walls. I found myself wanting to really feel those names, to feel the pain, the loss, of their families, so I walked for a while with my fingertips brushing against the names, trying to take them under my skin, trying to feel the dignity of every life that was lost. A woman saw me walking in my CODEPINK regalia, running my hand slowly along the wall; she gasped and said to her husband, "Oh, my good Lord Jesus. These young people have no respect for the sacrifice of our troops." I wanted to tell her how I was trying to honor that sacrifice with my fingers, with my presence in the march, but I didn't. I kept walking. I didn't feel like getting into it with her. Now I regret not saying anything; I missed out on a chance for the very sort of dialogue that has been so lacking.

As much as I long to find some common ground, though, I have to say it was so inspiring, so energizing, to be among so many like minded people—in the CODEPINK House, at the march, at the Green Festival. To be surrounded by so many people committed to peace was overwhelming. The march took over 5 hours because there were so many people on the streets; it was exhausting—my body was sore from so much standing, from so much banner-holding and back-pack lugging, my throat was raw from so much chanting and yelling and singing, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I wrote a couple of little chants the night before the march, including this one:
Rita! Katrina!
We need another leada!
War in Iraq!
We want our country back!
It was so amazing to hear a whole crowd of women voicing my words. I imagine that must be what it's like for songwriters when the audience sings along during a concert—those words are no longer your own; they're part of something bigger. That's not something I often get to experience very often as a novelist—writing a novel, reading a novel, are such solitary endeavors; it was great to have a more communal experience with language. That night, Medea Benjamin invited some CODPINK women to join her on stage at the Operation Ceasefire concert, where she had been invited to speak. We carried the "PEACE ON EARTH" banner I had held all day, and did one of our CODEPINK cheers in front of a crowd of at least 25,000 cheering people, the Washington Monument illuminated behind them. It was great fun. CODEPINK proves that protest can be fun, that peacework can be fun. I love that. I love that I'm able to be part of that.


Donna said...

Gayle, great post. I have been thinking a lot about the inability of people on the right and on the left to talk to each other, or even to understand each other, lately. I posted an essay that touches on this a little bit on my own blog after reading "On Writing for Children and Other People" by Lester Julius, where he says, "The failure of modern living is the failure of the imagination, the failure to look at ourselves through the eyes of someone else, the failure to see ourselves as equals in the realm of the soul." I think it's very interesting the way he says we should look at OURSELVES from a different perspective as a way to understand that perspective. I hope to explore this topic more and, if I can, find a way to bridge the communication gap at least on some small, local level.

gayle said...

Thank you so much, Donna. That's a fabulous quote from Lester Julius. I was just talking to my students on Monday about how fiction can help nurture compassion because it allows us to slip into other skins, to see the world through other eyes. It helps make the other less "other". I think it can be very instructive to write from the perspective of someone with a completely different viewpoint; as you mentioned, it can help us see ourselves more clearly, and help us see the other more clearly, as well. I look forward to reading your essay on the subject!

Donna said...

There's a very interesting piece from the Seattle Times on Common Dreams today:

The author talks about the divisions in our country, our national (not partisan) hypocrisy, and questions she's been asked by her 10 year old son.

She concludes, "The conversation that night with my son was difficult, and as such will continue. He was hungering for a deeper understanding of the history he was living and looking for answers on how to cope with his losses. I think America is hungry, too — for the conversations we aren't having. I know I'm ready to talk."