Wednesday evening 5th of June in Tucson, Arizona. St Mark’s church is full of people. The fans are on high to take the edge off the heat. A wonderful potluck dinner is served. We are gathered this evening for a “Festival of Hope” dedicated to a nonviolence action by Father Louie Vitale and Father Steve Kelly. They went to Fort Huachuca, close to Tucson, on the 19th of November 2006 to act out their resistance to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School which has strong connections to Guantanomo and the prison of Abu Ghraib. The two Jesuit priests tried to get into the base to hand over a letter to the staff in which they had written down their objections to the torture methods which are taught in this center. They knelt down in prayer when they were refused entry. Soon they were arrested.
Father Louie and Father Kelly were just two of many peace activists that I had the privilege to meet during the summer of 2007. So what makes a Swede, coming from a temperate country, come to the desert of Arizona in the sweltering heat of the summer? Well, I have been a facilitator of nonviolence workshops for six years in SweFOR (the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation) and I felt that I wanted to expand my knowledge of nonviolence. I was simply looking for the best nonviolence training in the world. I looked around and asked people in the nonviolence movement. The answer I got was CPT, Christian Peacemaker Teams. I found out that they had a month long nonviolence training; it was supposedly radically nonviolent, Christian and focused on direct action – just they way I like it. I had three months of vacation (we have ridiculously long vacations in Sweden) saved for the trip. There were just two little snags; you had to have the intention of joining CPT out in the field and you had to join a CPT delegation, before to be accepted to the training. After some thinking I really liked the idea of joining CPT and I found out that they had a CPT delegation on the US/Mexican border in the ending of May and it started out in Tucson, Arizona. In between the delegation and the training in Chicago I had almost two months – a great opportunity for me to travel in the US to get to know the American peace movement.
With great help from local peacemakers in Tucson I was going to political vigils within days of my arrival to the US. I was very impressed by the frequency and the persistence of the vigils in Tucson. They have three different vigils each week and one of them have gone on for more than 25 years. You certainly would not find that in Sweden! I got a one month Amtrak pass that took me everywhere I wanted to go on the east half of the US for 460 $. I felt satisfied with the fact that my domestic trips would not produce much more carbon dioxide, since my flight from Sweden had already increased my burden for the climate. In Sweden the train companies make a point of being the best environmental choice for the traveler but in the US I never heard about the huge impact flights have on the climate.
The train took me eastward, through deserts, tropics, through woods and cities. I went to New Orleans; had French donuts and listened to music in the streets. Next stop was Atlanta where Martin Luther King’s birth house was my main target; in Washington D.C. I stayed at a Catholic worker community. In Baltimore I stayed a couple of days with Jonah House; a community with the most radical older peace ladies I have ever met; many of them having spent long times in prison for their peace actions. Next stop was New York where I got to see the FOR headquarters in Nyack. FOR editor Ethan Vesely-Flad was kind enough to invite me to Atlanta where five staff members from FOR gathered for the first national Social Forum. It was great to spend five days together with my FOR colleagues and the other 15 000 (!) activists who gathered for a common purpose. The last stop on my American nonviolence tour was Chicago where I spent one month attending an incredible nonviolence training with Christian Peacemaker Teams. The training included two civil disobedience actions for peace which resulted in the added experiences of seeing the inside of an American police cell (the room service is much better in the British police cells!).
I have to confess that I had a lot of prejudices against Americans before I came to your country this summer. I was wondering if I would stand three months of egoistic, self-centered, arrogant, loud and shallow people…Yes, I confess it was stupid of me, because I have seldom met so many humble, critical towards their government, loving, caring, listening and radically nonviolent people in any country. Okay, I did not meet the average Joe, but if the people in the peace movement are as fantastic as the people I met you should be proud of it. Living in the most powerful militaristic empire in the world history you have a mighty challenge ahead of you, which I am sure you are all too well aware of. But don’t forget that you also have probably the best access to nonviolence in the world. I have not found any other country where you can study nonviolence at university. You have a mighty tradition of nonviolence in your history, everything from nonviolence actions in the independence movement to the civil rights movement and today’s Iraq war resistance. I think that you probably have to use the whole spectrum of nonviolence methods to be able to challenge the powers of war. But it is not only up to you Americans to change the US. We on the outskirts of the empire also have a chunk of the responsibility. Sweden could for starters stop selling weapons to the US which are used in Iraq (the Swedish antitank AT4 and the antitank Carl Gustav weapon are especially popular in the American army). Many Americans were surprised when I told them the fact that the supposedly peaceful country Sweden was one of the largest weapon exporters in the world. You Americans surprised me over the fact that the US, in spite of having a strong economy and highly advanced technology, does not have things that any other advanced democracy take for granted, like a decent healthcare system available for all, a well functioning rail way system, a multi party parliamentarian system and free university education. When I heard how big percentage of the US national budget that is spent on the military I could hardly believe it! I would have believed it if it was a dictatorship like North Korea but the US!? Sweden spends about 3 % of the national budget on the military and I think that is way too much.
I feel so grateful for everything I have learned and received from the American peace movement. I look forward to work with you all with the end goal in clear site: the abolition of war and God’s kingdom on earth. I really believe we can reach it if we all work together with the powerful tool of nonviolence.