Direct Action Is Participatory Democracy

New London County, Connecticut, touted by US Rep. Rob Simmons and others as "a homeland security center of excellence," and home to the New London Submarine Base, Electric Boat and other military facilities, will be one of many sites for world-wide acts of nonviolent civil resistance to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq beginning on Monday, March 20, 2006. Responding to the Global Call for Nonviolent Civil Resistance to the US-led Occupation of Iraq, local citizens will begin a series of actions on March 20 at the Norwich recruiting center and the Norwich offices of Rep. Simmons.

As the third anniversary of the United States-led invasion and occupation of Iraq approaches, religious leaders, writers and artists, human rights and peace activists, public officials and others, have called for ongoing campaigns of nonviolent civil resistance to end the US- led occupation of Iraq (the Global Call). March 20 is the first of a number of days of action throughout the year and around the world at U.S. and British diplomatic missions, military bases, recruiting offices and the headquarters of companies which profit from war.

"The USA and UK, out of fear, or worse, used the politics of revenge and the old ways of militarism, war, invasion and occupation of Iraq," says Northern Ireland Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, a signer of the Global Call. . . "Such actions bring forth counter violence, and have for the foreseeable future made the world a more dangerous place for us all. The occupation of Iraq should end, and an enquiry into those responsible in the UK and the USA administrations, who illegally took the world to war, should begin."

Another signer, British playwright Harold Pinter, in his 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, called the invasion of Iraq "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public. To define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all."

A local network of religious leaders, academics, concerned citizens and peace activists has accepted the Global Call and is planning actions throughout the year, beginning on Monday, March 20, with a demonstration at the Norwich office of US Representative Rob Simmons, a staunch supporter of the war, a "funeral march" mourning the US and other military forces killed in Iraq, as well as tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed during the past three years, ending at the US military recruiting center on West Main Street, Norwich. The aim of the action is to "disrupt business as usual," because, in the words of the Global Call, "business as usual" is the business of violence, death, and exploitation. It must be blocked and stopped by responsible citizens." This is what we mean by nonviolent "direct action" -- action to interrupt the working of the war machine, action to stop the war. Some actions will involve risking arrest; some will be legal demonstration in support of direct action and civil resistance.

Why are we engaging in nonviolent direct action focused on recruitment centers and congressional offices now? First, the US government has ignored the traditional expressions of dissent and opposition. Fifteen million people around the world marched against the war before the US-led invasion in 2003, and they were ignored. President Bush dismissed them as "focus groups." The United Nations did not authorize military action but the Bush government went ahead with the invasion. US war leaders "justified" their invasion with lies and deception. There were no "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, and there was no connection between the Iraqi government and 9/11 terrorists. Yet these lies have been constantly fed to the people of our country by the government and regurgitated endlessly by a controlled and manipulated press.

Second, while there was no connection between the dictator Saddam Hussein's Iraq government and Al Qaeda terrorists, occupied Iraq is now a hotbed of terrorism and civil strife. The fifteen year-long war on Iraq is indisputable evidence that violence does not end the threat of violence but rather that violence begets violence.

Third, the world is a more dangerous place because of the war on and occupation of Iraq. Terrorist actions in England last year were the direct result of the war on Iraq. War does not beget peace. As Gandhi said, "Your belief that there is no connection between the means and the end . . . is the same as saying we can get a rose through planting a noxious weed."

Finally, it is important to realize that the War Crimes Tribunals following World War II established that anyone with knowledge of illegal activity and an opportunity to do something is a potential criminal under international law, unless that person takes affirmative measures to prevent the commission of the crime. We believe the actions we plan fall under this provision of international law. We are acting as responsible citizens of the US and the world in taking nonviolent direct action to end the illegal war and occupation of Iraq.

In the first few weeks after the Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, people all over the world extended their sympathy to those who lost loved ones in the attack and their support to our country for the loss it had sustained. There was a moment when the world truly stood with the United States of America. Our country had at that moment an opportunity to embrace a better way of responding to terrorism. Without condoning violent actions, it could have sought to understand the causes of hostility to our country and addressed the grievances implied. The US could have insisted on international police action against criminal violence instead of initiating war against other countries. The military has not captured Osama bin Laden, nor disarmed terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere. But the hostility of Muslim peoples in the Middle East and poor people throughout the Third World has been aroused by the arrogant insistence of President George W. Bush that "those who are not with us are against us."

The US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, using special appropriations to keep the expense from showing up in the national budget, while at the same time increasing the military budget of the Pentagon and the armed services dramatically. To pay for the military budget and the off-budget wars, Congress has drastically reduced expenditures for education, health, and social welfare programs. And by reducing taxes for the rich the government has run up the largest national debt in the history of the country. There is no "shared sacrifice" in these wars of pride and power. All the sacrifice comes from the poor and minority communities who serve in the Armed Forces in the hope of going to college if they live to return to civilian life. Recent revelations of the torture of prisoners held without charges or civil rights in camps in Baghdad and the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, heighten the disgust of civilized people for US policies in support of this war.

What does this mean? How do we understand the underlying causes of these disastrous choices by our President and Congress? When Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out against the Vietnam War in 1967, he called our country to "a radical revolution of values," from money to morality, from concentrated power to shared life. "When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered," he said. He further warned that "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." A year later, Dr. King gave his life in the struggle against racism, militarism, and poverty. Eight years later the continued direct action and mass mobilization of people around the world brought the Vietnam War to an end.

Once again we face a national crisis. Will our country live up to the revolutionary promise of its history and the Bill of Rights? Or will we give in to the selfish pursuit of wealth and power at the expense of all other values? Our elected officials seem unable or unwilling to stop the war that is draining our country of material wellbeing and spiritual wholeness. We the people must take matters into our own hands and act.

Just as military preparation and war are the primary activity and the focal point of our country while it is drunk with the wine of power, so peaceful activity and "people power" is the focus of our opposition. The New York Times in February 2003 labeled the 15,000,000 person worldwide march against invasion of Iraq "the second super power" in the world. It is time to exercise that people power, in a world-wide nonviolent direct action to end war and occupation in Iraq. Why direct action? Because "direct action is participatory democracy." In the coming months local resistance will focus on the Norwich office of Representative Rob Simmons, our elected representative, who continues stubbornly to support the war, and the recruiting centers that attempt to lure young men and women from poor, minority and immigrant communities into military service with false promises of educational opportunity stolen from them by the war itself.

Future actions are planned throughout the month of April and for May 1, August 9, September 11, and December 10, 2006.

To stop militarism, we must do what we can to stop the machinery that takes patriotic and ambitious young Americans to turn them into what another age called "cannon fodder." We must stop doing "business as usual," and make our usual business the work of self-determination for all peoples, freedom for all citizens in our country and the world, and a just distribution of the world's resources. Nonviolent direct action is the only way to genuine security for all people and authentically democratic social change. The end is in the means. As war leads only to war, so nonviolent action leads to a peaceful world.

We believe that a just, equitable, sustainable and participatory society is not possible in a world dominated by war and based on the selfish interests of a few masters of corporate wealth. Only when we are all involved directly in the decisions that affect our lives will we have genuine democracy. An end to the US-led occupation of Iraq, an end to a world based on military power and war, is possible. Join us in nonviolent direct action against the war and help to create a new world of justice and peace for all.

Father Emmett Jarrett, TSSF
for the Southeastern Connecticut Global Call organizers
3 March 2006