We Knew This Was Coming. Now What Do We Do?

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.


In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

P.S. We have just lost the Supreme Court. Another wake-up call. Our canary is on life support.

Categories: Actions, Foreign Policy

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10 replies

  1. Your use of “moral” sets up polarization to make right and wrong assessments and then act as if you are right. That concerns me. You used it 11 times in this brief call to action. Yes, Trump sending missiles is wrong – and we have been bombing 7 countries for years – through both Republican and Democrat Presidents.

    Yes, coming together as a community is essential. How about we do it from a position of caring about each other and wanting to be prepared to care for each other in a crisis. I think that is what you are talking about but cannot be sure if all I hear is a “moral response”.

    • Thanks, Leslie. I think the emphasis on moral terms stems from the context of last night, a conversation with faith leaders with a focus on finding common moral ground. But it is also about trying to elevate the discussion beyond partisan politics and focusing on something beyond that: those core values about justice, security, freedom that are being compromised right now. I do think at some point each of us has to make decisions about when our government has crossed some line that divides good from evil and that personal resistance is essential. I don’t make the call as to what that line is; each of us does and most often that line is murky with shades of grey. But in a community with a good many shared values, it is likely that an action is on the horizon that will shock, alarm and unify most all of us. We are not ready for that moment, as a community. And so if we want to be prepared to respond, to protect and to care for our community, we need a plan. Soon. Thanks for the response.

  2. “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.” To this let me add Hallelujah and that this community strategy should coordinate with regional, national and global strategies. In this day of internet communication this should be feasible. I would like, to the best of my ability, to be involved in the development of such strategies or to join those already developed strategy if it appears to be well designed. So far, I have not seen such strategies clearly defined, at least not in a way open to my perception.

    As far as whether this is the event that should call for greater sacrifice by each of us as individuals, I would add it is a “pattern of events” and knowing when to “risk it all” may never have a singular clarion event. However, the longer we stay on this path, the action we should take will involve ever greater risk on our part. I can already hear my fellow citizens say we must stand behind fearless leader in these desperate times. I find myself vacillating between extremes of a romantic gesture that could lead to imprisonment (or worse) or taking care of only self and family and hiding from the truth of the course our government is on (and has been on for way too long). Ideally, there is a middle ground of action that utilizes whatever innate and learned skills I may have and whatever actual courage I may muster. I like, so many others, do find it difficult to go beyond my comfort zone in terms of taking action and realize the importance of being reinforced by the comradeship of like minded persons.

    Thank you for your words and call for strategy. I understand that there is at least a strategy to build an Albuquerque hub for your Retake effort and will participate in that effort.


  3. I have been thinking for many years but especially recently about withholding (placing in escrow) all or part of my taxes as a form of civil disobedience. Risky I know. This administration only understands money and power. If enough people refuse to fund them, it will send a message to all of them: the white house, the congress, and the judiciary.

    • National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
      They have been doing it for years. Much experience there.

  4. Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) aimed to take insurance away from 24 million people and as a result would have killed many just as dead as if they had been gassed. A President who cares about “men, women and innocent little children” could not possibly have supported the AHCA. Yet Trump did just that.

    A President who cares about the health of the American people would not appoint a corporate polluter to head the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and then gut the agency’s funding to make sure it couldn’t keep air, water and the environment safe and clean. But Trump did it in the name of rescuing corporations from the yoke of regulation.

    A President with respect for our democratic institutions should not have nominated to the Supreme Court an extremist whose track record clearly demonstrates that he sides with corporations rather than people. Yesterday the Republican-dominated Senate, desperate to give the President a ‘win’, changed their rules in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch. That change of Senate rules virtually guarantees that unbridled partisanship will rule Senate confirmation processes in future.

    In the face of these assaults on American policy and institutions Trump has, in his first 100 days, the lowest approval rating of any President in the history of such ratings. What better diversion from his PR train wreck than an unprovoked military attack cloaked in the language of humanitarian relief? Last night Trump unilaterally, without the required formal approval of Congress, authorized just such an attack on Syria. This assault on our Constitution and the War Powers Resolution should fly in the face of Congress, but so far it apparently does not. We should remind Congress of their appropriate role in the process of considering unprovoked military action.

    To Trump and his supporters, ignoring the separation of powers in order to ‘send a message’ by attacking a Syrian airbase may seem like a ‘win’, something that ‘needed to be done’. But we know what it really is: a blatant and dangerous manipulation of world affairs designed to improve his favorability ratings in the reality TV show which currently masquerades as a Presidency.

    Paul is absolutely correct. We cannot hope things will improve; we must organize to make it so, and quickly. If we wait for the Trump equivalent of the Reichstag Fire it will be too late.

  5. There are plenty of experienced organizers in our community. Retake needs to pay more attention to them.

    • I am not sure I understand this comment. How exactly do you know we don’t pay attention to experienced organizers. I have been getting weekly coaching from an organizer who was trained under Marshall Ganz and he just facilitated a half day leadership retreat with 15 Retake leaders. So we are paying attention to them and benefiting from them.

  6. Organization is a major necessary element of a strategy but not sufficient. Further it is apparent that we have a situation that is not normal politics and that may influence the type of organizing needed. Clearly the strategy of this administration includes keeping the public and press off balance and unfocused. Yelling squirrel like the movie Up but without the benign consequences. We cannot chase every dastardly act they commit, nor every cause worthy of our support. Instead we need analysis to focus on those goals that have the most value in terms of slowing, stopping and eventually reversing the course this admin and most Republicans have our country on. We must come to grips with the fact that the bar has been set so low for Donald that what would have been a fatal flaw for any other politician (even Reagan) does not touch him. We must analyze our opponents, identify weaknesses and opportunities, marshal our resources and develop coordinated plans of action if there is to be any chance of turning our country around. Of course depending on your religious tendencies one could pray for Devine intervention but hopefully that would not preclude us from taking appropriate coordinated action.

  7. – what to do next/war/money and power….
    Money and Power. Unfortunately, now: Money IS Power……
    It seems this discussion needs to include dealing with the “For Sale” sign that will be on all our computers, phones, etc. within a few months – every communication between every person and group involved with resisting this administration will be for sale (will become public ) The buyers? It does not take much to create a shell company, a fake corporation, an imaginary commercial entity, where Money is involved. Facebook will become particularly vulnerable – This white house clearly wishes to control all information – all media, and we already know that Russian hacking is real, fake news is spread, personal information and communications can be compromised. I do hope Retake and all resistance groups around the country are working on strategies to keep our communications safe……
    That is my personal suggestion for What to Do Next…

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