Hell freezes over: Elaine Santore (center) and Matt Gonzalez share a pew
during a Peace Vigil held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco yesterday.
Photos by Luke Thomas
By Elaine Santore
March 17, 2008
“War is hell.”
Like many American high school students, I read All Quiet on the Western Front. I still remember the book’s message that was not-so-subtlely relayed to us by my history teacher: “War is hell.”
That was during the late ’90s, and the US was not at war. But I had clear memories of Desert Storm during the earlier part of decade: going to a protest with my parents and wearing a peace button to school the next day. My second grade teacher sneered at it, and one of my classmates thought it was a Mercedes emblem.
I read books and listened to songs about my parents’ generation during the Vietnam War. But their generation has since become co-opted and romanticized. Dennis Hopper went from Easy Rider to shilling for Ameriprise.
But I never believed that my generation would ever go to war. When it happened, I believed in my heart of hearts that the rest of the country would quickly realize it was wrong, and end it. Five years later I’m losing faith.
How could the US allow my generation to slip through its fingers? How could a generation ravaged by the Vietnam War allow the same thing to happen to its own children?
“Holy shit, it’s Palm Sunday!”
By some bizarre twist of fate, I found myself inside a church on Palm Sunday. And it didn’t go up in flames! Of course, I didn’t remember it was Palm Sunday until Cindy Sheehan reminded everyone, but more on that later.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco isn’t like any church I’ve ever been to. No Catholic priest I’ve ever listened to has paraphrased Amy Winehouse like Rev. Gregory Stewart did:
“They said I had to go to war and I said, ‘No, no, no!’”
“Some of our good Christian leaders say God speaks directly to them on matters of church and state: they have the wrong number,” Stewart said. “They’ve been reading the wrong book, I don’t care how good they say their ‘good book’ is.”
He has a word for politicians who profit from war at the expense of innocent people:
Rev. Gregory Stewart, Senior Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Next up was the patron saint of San Francisco Progressives, Matt Gonzalez.
Vice-Presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez.
“When I reflect back on it, I realize that this war was, more than anything, a failure of our elected representatives to put a stop to it as they saw the war machine assemble. This was a failure of the journalism corps to write the truth,” Gonzalez said. “It was a failure, our failure, to mobilize adequately and efficiently to inspire greater numbers to share our values.”
Gonzalez has since created his own progressive litmus test for candidates and believes others should do the same.
“Anybody voted for this war, anybody voted for the Patriot Act, anybody who supports these things that I don’t believe in, they don’t get my vote. These are fundamental ideas,” Gonzalez said.
State Senator Carole Migden, at her third public appearance of the day (we saw her at an earlier event), said the public was not being informed about the war because of the mainstream media. But now the majority of America has caught on to the antiwar message.
California District 3 State Senator Carole Migden.
Americans can spread the message by taking communications into their own hands, “Through our blogs, our communication, our channel, our comedy, our community, and our gatherers,” Migden said. “And I say then, the word will finally go out.”
Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo, who writes a weekly column Behind the Headlines said that the longer the US stays in Iraq the closer they are to going to war with Iran.
He also noted that if citizens do not mobilize to stop the Iraq war, “we are headed for a war that will make the first war look like a Sunday School picnic.”
Antiwar.com Editorial Director Justin Raimondo.
Ying Lee, a draft counselor and former legislative aide to Ron Dellums and Barbara Lee, criticized the antiwar movement’s lack of unity.
“We’re as scattered, disorganized, unformed as we found ourselves,” Lee said.
She stated that all of the peace groups should put their pride aside, unify themselves, and have a common calendar. They should also rally around 3-4 key points.
Former military medic Joe Wheeler, who just returned from the Winter Soldier Hearings in Washington, D.C. spoke about his experience. Wheeler was stationed in Iraq from March to November 2003.
“You can’t imagine how important it is to soldiers to know you support them; you’re supporting them now,” he said.
Wheeler told a captivated audience estimated at 500 people a story about a young US soldier who picked up the head of a dead Iraqi who boasted: “Boy we really messed up the Iraqis this morning, didn’t we?”
Code Pink organizer Nancy Mancias and Code Pink members sang beautiful song with Betsy Rose dedicated to the women who have lost children and spouses to the Iraq War.
Betsy Rose and Code Pink.
Code Pink organizer Nancy Mancias (right).
Dan Ellsberg, the famed whistleblower responsible for the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times, honored the fortieth anniversary of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam.
Ellsberg has been an strong presence in the anti war movement, and isn’t afraid to get arrested for his efforts.
“We may be arrested for disturbing the peace, but there is no peace,” he said.
Peace Mom and congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan spoke about losing her son Casey in Iraq. Sheehan describes herself as a “recovering Catholic,” but still sees Holy Week as a time for renewal and reflection, especially in war time.
She didn’t realize it was Palm Sunday until she saw some of her neighbors in the Mission District walking through the streets with palms singing, “Santo, Santo, Santo.”
“Oh, shit! It’s Palm Sunday!” she said.
Reflecting on the death of her son, Casey, brought Sheehan to tears.
District 8 Candidate for Congress Cindy Sheehan.
Casey died Palm Sunday, April 4, 2004. His body was sent in a wooden box on Holy Saturday, his vigil was on Easter Sunday, and they buried him two days after Easter.
Sean Penn was supposed to speak, too, but was held up due to filming of Milk. But the real star was Sheehan. I’ve observed her over the course of her campaign and she has become increasingly eloquent each time I hear her speak.
Video Coverage by Josh Wolf
Unitarian Universalist Church: www.uusf.org
Iraq Moratorium for the San Francisco Bay Area: www.iraqmoratorium-sfbay.org
Cindy Sheehan for Congress: www.cindyforcongress.org
Code Pink: www.codepink4peace.org
Direct Action to Stop the War: www.bayareadirectaction.wordpress.com
Iraq Veterans Against the War – Winter Soldier Hearings: www.ivaw.org