Last night at the Interfaith Panel, one question from the audience chilled the room. “I just got a notice on my phone that the US has launched a missile attack on Syria. What do we do?” When the question was read to the audience, you could hear tears, one of the panelists buried his head in his hands, and then…
Last night US missiles fell on Syria. Immediately Veterans for Peace called upon Santa Fe to convene at Cerrillos Rd. and St. Francis at noon today. All of us. You may have plans but please break them. It is important today to come together as a community. But last night’s missile attack revealed the urgent need for much more commitment from each of you and from our community leaders. Read on.
About 250 folks turned out at last night’s Interfaith Panel event, and the issues the panel discussed got more germane as the evening unfolded. Faith leaders spoke of how their different faiths direct them to act on behalf of the most vulnerable, and some spoke of how words were not enough. I was struck by how good these faith leaders were at articulating how their faiths should operate in the public square.
All of the discussion was interesting, but somewhat abstract, and I wondered to myself: these seven faith leaders have immense power; they have a constituency that is looking to them for leadership, for guidance, for consolation, for inspiration. I was thinking to myself: How can that power be used to build a community wide moral response? It was an internal rhetorical thought. And then the audience question that burst open the entire room: “I just got a notice on my phone that the US has launched a large-scale missile attack on Syria. What do we do?” The room was stunned. It was clear that every member of the panel was having great difficulty assembling their thoughts, and at the same time trying very hard to hold on to their moral balance. One panelist was clearly consumed with emotion, head in hands for many moments, unmoving. After a moment of silence, the panel spoke for several more minutes about how the faith community had a responsibility to take a stand, with some panelists describing the need to risk personal loss. It occurred to me that it was far more than the faith community that needed to come together to take a stand. We were running out of time for this meeting and for the fight for our future. It was 8:55 and the event was to end in 5 minutes. I signaled Gail Marriner, the moderator, that I needed two minutes.
The mike was mine but I could barely speak. I told the audience that we had all known this moment was coming. Petitions and calls and postcards were all well and good, but every single person in the room knew in their heart that there would come a moment when we had to push all our chips in and say we can’t accept this. We are willing to put ourselves on the line. We have no choice but to do so. I tried to say this to the audience, but in truth, at every word I choked with emotion. With more time to think overnight, I realized a few things, murky things about the new reality of our complicated world and how we need to respond.
First, we do not really know who launched the nerve gas attack. In this crazy world the nerve gas attack could as easily have been done by us to provide a provocation, as by Syria. Second, as one of the faith panelists said to me in conversation afterwards: “If you use nerve gas on children, maybe there should be consequences, and the Syrian regime has been a moral blight for years. Perhaps it was a time to say, you can’t gas children.” Third, there is a profound irony in Donald Trump being the defender of Syrian children. If Trump cared about children, he would not lay the groundwork for destroying public education. He cares not a whit about American children and even less about Syrian children — children he suddenly wants to protect, while preventing them from seeking refuge in our country.
So, whether or not you could develop a moral argument for the military response yesterday, as Roxanne and I drove home, we both knew a moment was coming when there was a line crossed and we had to be willing to risk everything. This may not be that moment, but it seemed clear to us that the Syrian missile attack is the moral equivalent of the canary in the coal mine, and it is important we heed its warning. Because the bigger moment will come; we all know it and everyone at Temple Beth Shalom last night had the same deep understanding, not in their brain, but in their gut. So while this may not be the act where we must risk everything, as individuals and as a community, that moment is likely to come. And come soon.
We need to harken the call of the canary and we need to be ready; we need a plan and we need many, many more people who are organized and prepared to act together. We have had inspiring marches, more are to come later this month. But a series of actions is not a plan or a strategy, and it is clear we need a community strategy. We can no longer operate in our issue silos as we are all under attack from the same morally bankrupt regime. We need to grow and at the same time we need to cohere and focus.
But how? I have three questions for you to ponder, to reply to in this blog, and to ask your friends: 1) What are you willing to risk? 2) Are you willing to put in the time to be part of a coordinated moral response? and 3) How can our entire community come together in a coordinated fashion to be prepared to respond to the moral emergency to come? I plan to spend my day today having those kinds of conversations with friends and colleagues, and tomorrow Roxanne and I will be meeting with the emerging Retake leadership team for a half-day retreat, a timely opportunity to focus on these questions. Conversations need to happen among all of us, and we may not have the luxury of deliberation. Tulsi Gabbard has warned that these attacks could be the first step on a path to a nuclear war with Russia.
While how we respond as a community is still unformed in my head, I do know that we need more people engaged. Share this blog with 5-10 folks, and don’t just send them this and say this is a good blog. Call them, engage them, talk about the missile attack and the canary and ask them to join you in activism. Ask your friends to join you on Cerrillos and St. Francis at noon and this weekend, spend more time connecting with friends. Pretend the entire future of the world depends on your calls, because it just might.
We are in a moral war for the future of the earth, nothing less. And if you sit and sip your coffee and think, “nice blog,” and then move on, that is complicity with the events to come and you should ask yourself: who are you sacrificing by not doing more? We need to take this very seriously and that means getting out of our comfort zones and taking a few hours to engage friends and say: “Let’s do this.” Even when you and they may not know what “this” is just yet. Is it a national strike? Is it refusing to pay our taxes? Is it getting out on Highway 25 and blocking traffic for hours? I am not sure. No one is.
Last night made it abundantly clear that we are all living in a moral earthquake zone and the time to get prepared is yesterday. So, I ask each of you to ponder all of this. But ponder only for a moment. It is time to move beyond pondering. I am sure there will be tons of actions called over the next few days, but a series of actions is not a plan or a strategy, This weekend, make calls, make conversation, post comments on this blog: How can we form a coherent community-wide strategy? What can you and your friends and family do? How can we develop the moral equivalent of a community Rapid Response System?
But for today, let’s meet at Cerrillos and St. Francis. We will keep you apprised with more frequent posts than usual, and the best way to keep up is to go to our FB page a couple times a day.
Paul & Roxanne
P.S. We have just lost the Supreme Court. Another wake-up call. Our canary is on life support.