Monday, September 22, 2008

My Peaceful Protest

A few years ago I joined a small group of women in a small town in Montana stand in protest of the war in Iraq every 1st Monday of the month. Our peaceful protest includes signs and little white Christmas tree lights - one light for each American military death in Iraq. (I don't think this little town has enough lights to represent ALL of the deaths from this war in Iraq even if each of the 6,000 + residents donated their lights.)

Most of the women in this group are 50 years of age and above. I am in my 40's and I was one of the younger women! I remember at one of the protests one of the really younger women (in her 20's!) asked all of us if we were truly making a difference. I understood what she was we were in this little, tiny town in a state that has more sheep and cattle than it does people, and we were a little, tiny group of women standing on the sidewalk in front of the post office holding signs protesting a war that had more American military personnel fighting in it than we had people in not only our state, but in the two or three states next to us combined. Were we making a difference?

My dear friend Margot Kidder, one of the fearless leaders of our group and the original Lois Lane of the Superman movies, walked by with her sign just as this young woman asked that question. Margie (pronounced Margee) turned so quickly and responded emphatically, "Yes, yes, yes, we are making a difference and we will continue to protest because that's what we have to do. It's our right and it's our voice that is going to make a difference. This country has changed before because of peaceful protesting and it will change again."

Our peaceful protesting along with many other similar protests happening throughout our VERY politically conservative state helped to defeat long standing, senior Republican Senator Conrad Burns and elect Jon Tester (D). Senator Burns had been deeply entrenched in the Bush administration politics. Over the past couple of years, Senator Tester has been instrumental in the passing of the recent GI Bill, has worked tirelessly for American military veterans, and continues to speak out against the "war on terrorism" in Iraq.

Did our little group protest make a difference? Yes and it continues to do so.

More people are registered to vote in Montana now than at any other time in history. More people came out for the primaries than at any other time in history. And it's not because of the political ads on TV or in print - those have been around during every election. It's because of the small groups of people peacefully protesting, peacefully marching in the little, tiny 4th of July parades that take place each year, peacefully holding screenings of films like Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, and American Made, peacefully talking with their neighbors they see outside or in the coffee shops or at the grocery store, peacefully sitting at a table passing out bumper stickers and yard signs at their local college, peacefully writing emails, blogs, letters to the editor, etc.

How funny...just as I was typing that last paragraph a film director friend of mine in Los Angeles sent me an email letting me know that the presidential race in Montana is tight - McCain is polling at 49% and Obama at 45%. He was asking in his email what I was going to do about it! (Right on, Lance!) For those that know me, that's a funny question! I'm not much of a wallflower when it comes to something I believe in. (Lance, who does know me, was asking if as a Hillary supporter I was going to actively support Barack in MT. Lance very actively campaigns for Barack in California.) Yes, Lance...I am actively campaigning for Barack!

It is emails like my director friend Lance Mungia's today that inspire me to keep standing strong, to keep using my voice and to keep peacefully protesting and it's stories like the one I'm about to share that continue to reinforce the words Margie stated a few years ago to that young 20-something-year-old girl.

In 1983, I traveled as a cast member in Up with People. A few days ago another alumni from Up with People sent me two links to a story I found incredibly inspiring. The friend who sent me the links traveled in Up with People in the 1970's. For those of you not familiar with Up with People, the organization started in 1965 during a turbulent time in the United States and became fully recognized as a nonprofit organization in 1968. It started because a small group of people believed peacefully "protesting" violence in the world by means of music and song could make a difference. And they believed that the greatest impact would be made if the music and song came through young people brought together from all over the world to travel as a cast and get this...stay in people's home as they traveled all over the world with their musical show!

You may be wondering what Up with People, Margie Kidder, Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, peaceful protesting, and elections all have in common. The incredible story contained in these links brings it all together. With the upcoming presidential debate at the University of Mississippi, please take the time to learn about its history and why THIS debate at THIS place is so significant.

The presidential debate at the University of Mississippi is going to be truly historical. So much history has been made so far in this election...


In regard to peaceful protest and how it works to change the world, I believe the story contained in the two links speaks volumes.

I encourage each of you to read the stories and then as you watch the presidential debate on TV, give thanks to those that protested before us. And then keep running with the baton that has been passed to you. As my friend Lance wrote, his 4-year-old daughter needs me. She needs you. She needs each one of us to keep peacefully protesting because as Margie so powerfully stated, protests have changed this country in the past and they will change it again.

While I no longer live in the earlier mentioned small town in Montana, I continue my peaceful protest.

My peaceful protest is in each call I make on behalf of the Obama campaign, each email, blog, and letter to the editor I write, each sign I post and carry, each time I talk with a friend about Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, each 4th of July parade I march in, each time I pray for peace, each time I encourage people like Valarie Kaur to keep staying strong in her life, each time I see something special in film directors like Sharat Raju and Lance Mungia and I take action to get to know them as people and friends, and each time I write a blog people I don't even know may read.

I shall continue to protest and I shall vote because a shockingly small group of incredible women won that victory for me 80 years ago.


I know I have victories to win for others.

Harold Koh, Dean of Yale Law School, recently told this year's incoming students:

"When I was graduating from college, heading off to England on a scholarship, a family friend came to me at graduation and congratulated me on my accomplishments. My older sister, who was standing next to me, waited politely until the friend left, and then she asked, "What accomplishments? You have no accomplishments. All you have done is go to school!" She said, "There are many people who have no schooling but have made genuine accomplishments; and there are many people with world-class schooling but no accomplishments. And the difference between them is that those who have really accomplished something know what they stand for."

Smart sister.

Standing for human rights, a change in America's foreign policy, the end to genocide, peace in the world, and much, much more,

~ Penny

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