Maybe one of the reasons that I write is to learn who I really am. I get glimpses every day, but by writing, I can see it better. So, here’s my latest insight. Or, first, here are the circumstances that have come together that allow me to see myself more clearly and to question some of my assumptions.
I have chosen to be a Quaker, from more than thirty years ago. Even before that, I considered myself a pacifist and believed myself to be. During the Vietnam war, I believed it to be wrong, believed all that killing to be wrong. As a woman, I could not be drafted and believed that, if I had been, I would have refused to fight, refused to go.
But, of course, I never had to make that choice. That belief did not require anything of me, except to march in peace rallies near home or past the White House.
I have sat comfortably in these beliefs for many decades. Yesterday, my beliefs were challenged by events happening in Ukraine. With Friends (capital F, because they are Quakers, too), I took the train into Boston to attend and participate in a peace rally on Boston Common. I had attended a similar rally two weeks ago, just outside the Park Street T station. After arriving, when we left the station, we noticed a large rally a short distance away, surrounding the bandstand, with dozens of bright yellow and blue Ukrainian flags. It was not the rally we had come for, but it appeared to be similar, so we joined it.
There were many speakers, including Mayor Michelle Wu and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, all pledging to support and stand with Ukraine. Occasionally, there were Ukranian phrases repeated, as well as phrases that I chanted, along with everyone else, “Ban Russian Oil,” and “No Fly Zone.” Among the hundreds of people present, many draped bright Ukranian flags over their shoulders. Some women displayed traditional Ukranian flower headdresses and some leashed dogs were wearing blue and yellow flowers in their collars. A couple of people wore bright yellow jackets, pants, or shirts.
My heart was in unity with the voices and their messages, wanting Russia to stop fighting Ukraine, to stop killing people in Putin’s attempt simply to extend his dominance. Some of the speakers raised the concern that these events are reminiscent of early Nazis, prior to World War II, and that this might be the time that stronger resistance is needed, to prevent World War III. One message was, “Say your prayers — and move your feet.” That was my belief as well, that it is not enough to pray; action is also needed. I wondered if this action I was taking, being here, adding my voice to the crowd, was enough. Was more than my presence required?
After about an hour, we headed back to the T station, only then noticing the much smaller rally, the one we had actually come in to attend. The message of this one was also for peace, with a stronger emphasis on ‘no war’ than on alignment with Ukraine.
During the train ride back to Beverly, we discussed pacifism and whether each of us was really a pacifist. One Friend challenged me, “Did you really think that was a peace rally?”
If I believed that armed force against the Russians was required to prevent a Third World War, would I still be a pacifist?
I want to say yes, but I do not really know. I do not know.
Thank you, Martin, for the term, ‘peace activist,’ to replace pacifist. That fits me.
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