American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
At the Arlington Memorial Bridge
Stonewalk Address given by Lewis Randa on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, August 6, following the impoundment of the Memorial Stone for Unknown Civilians Killed in War. Randa is director of the Peace Abbey, Sherborn, MA 01770; 508/650-3659; www.peaceabbey.org
We stand at mid-point of our journey over the Memorial Bridge and proclaim this very bridge to be the one we as a people must travel over to enter into the 21st Century.
And it is here, half way over the Potomac, that Stonewalk temporarily suspends its efforts to bring America's only memorial for Unknown Civilians Killed in War to Arlington National Cemetery. Though its arrival is way over due, our elected and appointed officials have no idea how to accept it. Accepting this stone, of course, means understanding and accepting its message. Collateral damage, the euphemism used to describe civilian deaths, is not only obsolete, like war itself, but is insensitive, insulting, and dehumanizing. It provides governments and those governed with a comfort zone for the death and destruction of innocent people and the social fabric upon which they must depend for survival-not to mention the wholesale slaughter of defenseless animals of land, air, and sea.
We proudly pulled the stone here in an attempt to educate and inspire those we met along the way, and we sought to soften hardened hearts and affirm hearts already open. We chose to physically pull this slab of granite to our nation's capital because we feel there is a great deal of penance to perform for the tens of millions of children, sisters and brothers, and mothers and fathers that we have killed over centuries unintentionally, or at times by design, with deliberate and calculated malice. We have as a people become numb to civilian deaths, and our own sense of shame.
Having just completed our 500-mile journey from the grounds of The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts over a period of 33 days, pulling this 2000-pound granite memorial for Unknown Civilians Killed in War, we stand here at mid-point on the Arlington Memorial Bridge to temporarily conclude our journey-for this stone has no home. Like the multitude of war refugees throughout the world, it is denied entry to its final destination. It has no papers, lacks signatures on official documents-the weight of its message too heavy for a government to bother with.
So we shall stop here, and allow it to be impounded by the one group of Americans we can trust, who provided those who pulled the stone with protection and care on the streets and highways, in cities and towns down the coast through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. I refer of course to the men and women in blue in the police departments in over 100 communities. While we were afforded loving care in many churches along the way, it was the officers on duty who impressed us most, who came to our aid when we were given a cold shoulder or a deaf ear. When we were turned away by churches and clergy, they never disappointed us, demonstrating a level of charity and good will that gets preached a great deal, but practiced far too infrequently.
Every step of the way the police protected us, encouraged us, fed us, at times clothed us, brought us into their barracks to shower and share a sense of family. And when we were physically unable to take another step, they joined us at the drawbars and pulled when the incline was too steep and our numbers were too small. More than any other group, the police were in solidarity with the Stonewalkers, they looked after the stone and those whose duty it was to bring it to Washington, they blessed this cause when others didn't and made us feel proud to be Americans.
So today we turn again to our brothers and sisters in blue, here on this bridge which will lead us into the 21st Century, and humbly call upon them to officially impound this memorial stone and its caisson and keep it safe from the enemy of indifference and contempt until such time as we gather here, at this spot, on the Memorial Bridge, to complete this sacred journey to Arlington.
The option of bringing the stone to an embassy seems inappropriate. This is an American issue, to be dealt with by Americans and those elected and appointed officials whose job it is to listen closely to those whom they swore to serve.
Were we to complete the journey today, and bring it to Arlington, the stone would be discarded, rejected like the very message it embodies. This is the official position of Arlington, America's most sacred shrine. So out of respect for this stone and millions of voiceless civilian victims whose lives it honors, and out of respect for Arlington and those who were laid to rest there, we shall postpone that day of reckoning.
But we shall meet again, here on this bridge to the 21st Century, once Congress has passed legislation to accept the stone so we can complete our journey to Arlington. And we shall ask that the police return the stone, cradled on the caisson designed, engineered, and built for this journey, to this very spot so we can, in good faith, complete what we set out to do on the final Independence Day of the 20th century.
This moment is difficult, indeed, for all who shouldered the effort to bring this stone here. But it is nothing compared to what millions of families go through when armies advance, bombs are dropped, and news arrives that a loved one is dead. Our dream of a civilian memorial is not dead. It simply requires that so long as we draw breath, we work and pray and struggle in every way possible to see this mission through. We will someday complete this journey. Until that time the stone will remain impounded. And to think, we simply brought our country a gift, and our country couldn't find a way to accept it. "With a good conscience our only sure reward ... let us go forth," in the words of President Kennedy, "to serve the land we love, asking his blessings and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own."
After the caisson and stone were loaded on the flatbed truck to be impounded by a DC SWAT team, Stonewalkers proceeded on foot to Arlington National Cemetery. They carried the bronze plaque that was at the base of the Memorial Stone which reads, "To whom can one pledge one's allegiance except to the victims" a quote from the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Stanley Kunitz. The group then gathered at the grave of Bobby Kennedy. All stood in silence. Some wept. They then went to the spot near the Memorial Amphitheater where someday, God willing, the stone will be placed. Stonewalkers spoke about their experiences, reflected on what the journey meant to them, and prayed for peace in the world. It became clear before the group dispersed that temporary closure was achieved to this 33-day odyssey of the heart.
The journey of Stonewalk is anything but over ....
Call/write/email your elected officials in Washington and ask/demand that they support placement of the Memorial Stone for Unknown Civilians Killed in War at Arlington National Cemetery. And write a letter to the editor. Your help is needed now.
If you would see your dream come true,
be true to your dream-this you must do.
And never, never, never give-up!