The Sleepers Must Awaken
How can a people so lacking in compassion for their own fellow citizens be made to care from the dead halfway around the world, the dead murdered by bullets and bombs and chemicals bought with their tax dollars and delivered in their names?
How can Americans be made to understand the great crime now five years old, this great crime on top of so many great crimes?
Some protesters in Chicago thought that some political theater in a church celebrating the capital punishment and resurrection of a “God” over two thousand years ago might wake some people up:
As they listened to the gospel during mass Sunday, few parishioners at Holy Name parish could have imagined how their holiday service and their Easter finery were about to be tainted.
Six protesters disrupted the beginning of Cardinal Francis George’s homily to shout their opposition to the Iraq war. The demonstrators—who called themselves Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War, despite their male and female membership—squirted fake blood on themselves and nearby worshipers as security guards tried to usher them from the parish’s auditorium, where mass is being said during repairs on the downtown Chicago cathedral.
The syrupy red substance—which one protester later described as “stage blood"—initially drew horrified gasps and a few shrieks from the 600 worshipers at the mass. The shock, however, quickly gave way to anger as people booed the demonstrators while they were being removed from the hall.
The symbolism couldn’t be more spot on. While comfortable people gather together to celebrate a bloody murder to save their souls, before representations of murder transmuted into symbols of redemption, these young people tried to remind them that other human beings are dying horrible deaths, suffering their own endless cycle of death and loss, with no redemption in sight. It was, of course, lost on their audience, outraged that they would frighten THE CHILDREN:
A few livid parents followed the protesters into the lobby and berated them for scaring children at mass.
“Are you happy with yourselves?” Mike Wainscott of Chicago shouted at the demonstrators as they were being handcuffed by police. “There were kids in there. You scared little kids with your selfish act. Are you happy now?"
A cry for peace and compassion is a selfish act. The children will be scared by dissent in church, as though the book they’re teaching their children to venerate wasn’t already a horrorshow. I know it gave me nightmares when I was a kid, chock full of murder and rape and war and death.
"The fact that people have to come to Easter mass and do something like that is disturbing,” said Carroll Baker, whose face was splattered with the fake blood during the fracas. “It’s very sad, and it’s very irritating.”
Bob Gowrylow, a 70-year-old Holy Name usher who is battling cancer, wept in the lobby as he tried to clean the fake blood from his blazer. Gowrylow said he blames himself for not rushing down the aisle quickly enough to prevent the protesters from frightening parishioners.
Gowrylow, who said he had been recently released from a hospital, worried the worshipers missed an important Easter message because of the disruption. He missed the cardinal’s homily himself because one of the demonstrators had squirted the fake blood in his ear and damaged his hearing aid.
How do you awaken those who are asleep to great crimes? How do you move them out of their own fears, their own small little worlds, and make them understand? Can you? SHOULD you? Some would say that such protests are counterproductive, that they only widen our divides, reinforce people’s acceptance of what is. Some would say that they have no right, especially those who are unable and unwilling to see past their own little worlds and their own darkened fears:
The cardinal returned easily to his Easter homily, but Connie Gallegos found herself staring at disbelief at her husband’s blood-splattered khaki pants and his light-blue Polo shirt. The scene seemed so surreal, she said, she didn’t register what was happening until after the protesters had left the auditorium.
For the rest of the mass, she sat and thought about the Northern Illinois University students who were seated in a lecture hall on Feb. 14 when a gunman opened fire, killing five before taking his own life. She wondered if those students sat frozen as she did, muted by the confusion and emotions swirling around her.
“I have a son who goes to NIU,” she said. “I keep thinking about how those students must have reacted."
Words fail. Political theater is the same as a violent attack. Church is no place to fight for peace:
After the service, the cardinal reiterated the Catholic Church’s opposition to the war, but he said mass is not the place to protest the U.S.-led invasion.
“We should all work for peace,” George said, “but not by interrupting the worship of God. It’s an act of violence to come among a group of believers and try to manipulate worship to your own purposes, no matter how noble and good they are."
Unless of course that manipulation is used to take away women’s reproductive freedom, or to protect the skins of pedophiles, or to pass the collection plate and make some money.
So many have said so much, written so much, marched so far, produced art and music and theater to try to awaken some spirit of compassion in the American people for those murdered and tortured for oil and empire. To try and make people understand. As IOZ writes as our ongoing wars move into their sixth and seventh years:
Now if this is how I feel after something so quotidian as a break-up; if I feel my frankly comfortable, untroubled life to be exploding into a thousand sorrows just because my lover and I reached an impasse that we couldn’t negotiate together; if such bleakness, helplessness, and desperation as I’ve never felt in my life can come from something so insubstantial as having to buy new furniture or a new jacket because he’s taking my favorites; if I am wracked by fear--real, true fear as I haven’t felt since I was a child--about being alone for a while; then just how the fuck must it feel to be an Iraqi or an Afghani or a Palestinian? If it’s bad to lose a lover in Pittsburgh, what must it be like to see your family killed, or your husband kidnapped, or your home destroyed in Baghdad?
I think this is an experiment too many of us shy away from totally, to consider the very worst hurts in our lives, the deepest gulfs of grief and despair, and to try to imagine them magnified a hundred-fold and then repeated daily, accompanied by daily humiliations and by a truer helplessness. That, you know, is why something like the Occupation of Iraq is such an unforgiveable crime--not because it violates the ethical obligations of nations, if such exist, or because it contravenes international law, or because it violates some ephemeral original spirit of America, truth, justice democracy. I am sick to death of justice and democracy. I am tired beyond words of the euphemisms that surround the treatment of war as a political phenomenon. Consider the most terrible thing that has ever happened to you and your family, and then look at a picture of a woman wailing over a husband killed by a bomb, or a man tearing his hair out over the body of his brother with a bullet in the head, and consider that for them the reoccurence of such tragedy is inevitable, and the closeness to it daily and inescapable. How must they hurt, those people caught between nations, armies, insurgencies? And how is it that I am crying on a bus for myself, and not for them?
How do you teach people compassion who have no time or openness for it? One can only hope that each gesture, each demonstration, each word, poem, movie, photo, plea, cry, scream, prayer ... that each is a little seed that might eventually grow into an opening understanding of what is being done in our names, once again, crime upon crime.