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We have no business preparing for a war in Iraq


I am always looking for signs. For example, I sometimes make this prayer of desperation: Please, God, give me a sign. I am amazed at just how often that prayer works for me, or at least I am easily satisfied with anything resembling an answer in times of greatest desire for clarity. I’m not talking lightning bolts, the stigmata or multiplying peanut butter sandwiches in my fridge; more like a phone call from someone offering a job tip, or a chance en-counter that turns my day around.

Right now, however, I am very clear on one thing that seems to confound many others, especially our nation’s legislators: We have no business preparing for a war in Iraq. I’m very sure about this, but if I weren’t I wouldn’t even have to ask for a sign, because in my city there is a spate of three by four foot lawn signs sprouting up all over that read simply: “Say no to war with Iraq.” They are signs of resistance to the mass marketing of the idea that this war is: a) just, b) inevitable, c) patriotic, or d) all of the above. They’re signs that I am not alone in my refusal to accept the official rationale for violence. They’re lighting my Advent journey toward welcoming the Prince of Peace.

The lawn sign campaign is the work of a group of longtime peace activists, St. Joan of Arc/Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) Peacemakers. These folks just don’t buy the truism that the majority of people in the United States favor the impending war. And they’ll sell you a sign if you want to let your neighbors know where you stand.

St. Joan of Arc/Women Against Military Madness Peacemakers was founded in 1996 to protest the economic sanctions against Iraq. WAMM is a 25-year old secular organization dedicated to countering the growth of the military-industrial complex through public protest and education. The Peacemakers group organizes public protest activities, hosts peace conferences, sponsors a conscientious objectors’ program for young parishioners, and raises funds to send representatives to travel with peace delegations to places like Iraq and Israel. The week before last month’s election, the Peacemakers co-organized a peace rally that drew 10,500 to the Minnesota capitol to demonstrate support for a “no” vote on the Bush administration’s resolution on use of force in Iraq.

Marie Braun, a WAMM steering committee member and St. Joan of Arc parishioner, traveled to Iraq in 1998 with former attorney general Ramsey Clark’s 84-person delegation, which delivered $4 million worth of medicine to Iraqi hospitals. Conditions there remain dire, she said, although they have improved slightly since her visit. “It was devastating,” she recalled. “Hospitals are wards of misery.” Physicians were forced to perform cae-sarean sections on women without anesthesia, and to tell cancer patients they could not have pain medication because there was none. Mostly, she carries with her images of dying children whose lives could have been saved by medicine, proper nutrition or simply clean water. She wants to see an end to this suffering and to raise awareness of the United States’ complicity in the misery of the people of Iraq, and to empower citizens to take a stand and ask for an end to it.

“We were looking for new ways to get the idea across,” said Braun, “and we thought the signs would help to stimulate conversation among neighbors.” The group had $1,000 in its bank account and decided to make as many as they could for that amount; they priced various printers and ended up with 100 signs. “We hoped we could sell them all,” said Braun, but she needn’t have worried. By the time the first batch was ready, 125 orders had been placed at St. Joan’s and they can’t get them printed fast enough to keep up with demand. About 1,800 signs have sold at St. Joan’s and other parishes, and through the WAMM office; even the printing company has received inquiries from those who find its name on the signs. Orders have come in from St. Cloud, Minn., and even as far as International Falls, Minn., near the Canadian border. Another 1,000 are on order. The signs come complete with posts and fasteners, and are sold at cost, $10 each.

I know the signs get people thinking, because one day my daughter sat down at the kitchen table as I cooked dinner and in her second grade cursive and a fat magic marker, made her own sign. She wrote: “Don’t fight Iraq.” She asked me for tape and stuck it on our front door. When the following weekend someone at our parish announced that she had signs for sale, only $10 each, it was like a sign from God: We needed one of these signs, too. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Kris Berggren writes from Minneapolis. She can be reached by e-mail at krisberggren@msn.com

National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002