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Bush’s war brings uncertain times for peacemakers


Marcus Page of Gallup, N.M., is a committed pacifist with deep roots in the Catholic Worker movement. He hosts a radio talk show called “Cultivating Peace” and has produced a radio documentary about Catholic anarchist Ammon Hennacy. The 36-year-old radio rebel, who wears his hair in a Mohawk, also works with community-oriented micropower stations sometimes known as free or “pirate” radio.

Page is also affiliated with a number of peace groups. Among these are the Nevada Desert Experience and the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.

In May 2001 Page participated in a prayer action at Vandenberg Air Force Base near Santa Barbara, Calif. The largest space command facility in the United States, Vandenberg is best known for its national missile defense tests in promotion of “Star Wars.” Page described the action, which was coordinated with the Los Angeles Catholic Worker affinity group, as “a prayer to sanctify the land and to stop the violence.” He was subsequently found guilty of trespassing and is serving a year’s probation.

Page recently drove to Tucson with two friends to record an interview with me about my new book of poetry, The Devil’s Workshop, and to check out our local peace fair. His pleasant visit took a bizarre turn, however, en route back to New Mexico. He called me after returning to Gallup to tell me what happened.

A police officer near Mammoth, Ariz., Page said, stopped the group for allegedly speeding. Page, who was driving his friend’s car, concedes he might have been going five miles over the speed limit. He gave the officer his social security number, which was relayed to a dispatcher. But Page was not merely ticketed. The cop proceeded to handcuff Page, justifying the action with the claim that Page was “affiliated with a terrorist organization.”

Page thought he was joking until a backup car and a canine unit showed up. Not wanting to provoke the cop, Page did not inquire about the “terrorist organization.” Instead, he made small talk with one of the cops.

“During our wait for the police to search everything, one cop stayed with us and told us all about Jesus Christ the Savior in response to our comments on Christian pacifism,” said Page. “The Christian cop claimed that God ordains some governments to use violence, including the U.S.A.”

The group was let go within about an hour.

“I’m not one to ever admit being angry, but it did cause stress,” said Page. He told me that he is assuming the best: that the police officer -- who struck him as “fumbling, decent, not nasty” -- confused the concept of an activist group with a terrorist group.

Page’s interpretation is charitable, given our nation’s dark history of repressing dissent. And now, one must wonder what activists of all stripes will confront as President George W. Bush escalates his anti-terrorist rhetoric.

Bush’s problem is that he is waging war not on specific criminals -- but with “evil” in general. And demonology makes for irrational military policy. In Bush’s worldview, dissenters are soft on evildoers -- and should be dealt with by curtailing civil rights.

I described Page’s experience to Betita Martinez, one of the editors of the new publication, War Times, which comes out of San Francisco.

“People around the country know they’re not getting the real story,” she said, about the war abroad and against activists and immigrants here at home.

Martinez said that the reaction to the February pilot issue of War Times has been overwhelming. A first printing of 75,000 issues went immediately; 25,000 more have been printed.

The issue includes articles about the costs of Bush’s “permanent war,” anti-war actions, and an interview with actor and human rights activist Danny Glover. Half the paper is in Spanish.

The anti-war movement has tended to be middle class and white, Martinez said. “We have to get more people of color involved,” she said, explaining that we are the ones most affected by the scourges of wartime. (To find out how to get bulk copies for your church or other groups, contact: wartimes@attbi.com)

These days we need information as well as inspiration, which together add up to hope. With this in mind, I urge readers to buy, borrow or steal these two books: An Echo In My Blood: A Search for a Family’s Hidden Past, by Alan Weisman (Harcourt, Brace) and The Voice of the Butterfly (Chronicle Books) by John Nichols.

Since he was a child, Weisman had heard his dad tell of how communists in the Ukraine had murdered his grandfather. Years later, an estranged uncle told a very different version of the story, compelling Weisman to apply his formidable skills as an investigative journalist to his own family’s history. The reader accompanies the author on a quest in space and time, from Russia to the social movements of the 1960s. Weisman’s breathtaking story is a metaphor for the human family’s struggle to know itself and to know peace.

John Nichols is a photographer and novelist best known for The Milagro Beanfield War, a tale of water rights and class war in northern New Mexico. The Voice of the Butterfly is about Charley McFarland, an aging ’60s radical who decides it’s time to rally the troops once again -- this time on behalf of a butterfly, the obscure Rocky Mountain phistic copper.

McFarland’s dysfunctional, yet oddly grace-filled Butterfly Coalition had me laughing out loud. It made me aware once again of what activists can accomplish, usually despite ourselves. As with Milagro, Nichols empowers us with a heady mix of politics and humor, a tonic needed in these times.

Demetria Martinez lives in Tucson, Ariz.

National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002