Declaring Independence from War Under An Exploding Sky

By Rae Abileah

Fasting Solidarity
At 1:30 a.m. last night I sent out an email blast to all the people who signed up to fast with us in their hometowns on the 4th of July. One way I offered to help individual fasters was to connect them with people in their area who also signed up to fast on the website. The email went out to over 2,500 people, and within a few hours, when I awoke at sunrise this morning to check my email, I already had dozens of emails from people around the country who want to be connected with fasters in their communities. Locally, people in San Francisco are really intrigued by our rolling fast action outside Senator Feinstein's office, which will begin tomorrow. The fast is already touching people's hearts and igniting a deep desire to connect, to act, and to do more than protest on a Saturday or email a Congressperson (which are both important actions, but are not enough, solely, to stop this war).

Parades and Picnics
Bay Area CODEPINK decorated a convertible car with "Troops Home Fast" banners, flowers, and lots of pink, and took part in the largest Bay Area 4th of July parade, in Alameda. Our contingent was sandwiched between the Alameda Peace and Justice Coalition and the Network of Spiritual Progressives in front of us, and a large truck with big "Impeach Bush" signs behind us. The whole way along the 2 ˝ mile route we received peace signs and applause from kids, adults clad in red, white and blue from head to toe, and elders; and people were jumping out of their seats with appreciation for the impeachment truck. Kat, the CODEPINKcontingent coordinator, said that she could not remember so much anti-war sentiment in any of the parades over the past 12 years, and Alameda tends to err on the conservative side of the Bay Area political spectrum.

It felt really good to start out this 4th of July in the company of my CODEPINK sisters. I have been struggling with how to observe the 230th birthday of our nation, as it has deep roots of celebration for my immigrant family, and a strong association with pride and joy in being in the USA, regardless of current politics. But this year, the third year of the US occupation of Iraq, my family and I found little reason to celebrate; we cancelled our annual festivities, and instead chose to protest and spend the day in deep reflection. I wrote about my family's relationship with the 4th of July in an op ed piece that was published today in the San Mateo Times, which is online at here.

At midday I attended a Network of Spiritual Progressives 4th of July picnic where we sang "America the Beautiful," "Imagine," "We Shall Overcome," and a version of "This Land is Your Land" with an alternate ending about Katrina and housing injustice. In the evening I joined my parents and our family friends in Fremont. Our friends are from Northern India, and most of our conversation focused on the occupation of Iraq, the injustices committed by Bush's administration, and the seeming apathy in many Americans. We also discussed the ways that Gandhi's nonviolence tactics can be used today, which I will blog more about in the coming days.

The long road home
On my way home to San Francisco, I got stuck in heavy traffic, and then all of a sudden fire works started exploding very close to the freeway. The sparks even dropped on the road beside my car. The sky was at once transformed into a Light Brite-little neon color dots burning the twilight blue sky. They were erupting in three directions-Alameda, Oakland, and over the bay towards San Francisco. Each firework left a smoky trail that hung in the air in the wake of the glittery falling embers. My shoulders twitched and I jumped with the close eruptions. A line from an Ani Difranco song instantly came to mind: "We drove the car to the top of the parking ramp on the 4th of July…and watched the fireworks explode in the sky. And there was an exodus of birds from the trees, cause they didn't know, we were only pretending. And the people all looked up, and looked pleased, and the birds flew around like the whole world was ending."

The Iraqi women-who came to the US to speak about the US occupation during our Women Say No to War campaign-brought photos of the bombings in Baghdad and Haditha and showed them at their speaking events. Those photos are engraved in my mind and my dreams, and tonight, they were superimposed on our Bay Area skyline. What if the fireworks were indeed the "rockets red glare" that they aim to recall? What would it be like to actually witness our city being bombed?

When people see photos from Iraq of the post-bombing rubble, there is little context for what stood before. How can we understand the gravity of this destruction if we don't know how to visualize what once stood-the magnificent city of Baghdad, the lush rivers, the wealth of libraries and museums, the ornate mosques, the private homes?

Fireworks have become an annual custom as American as apple pie, and I enjoy a good display just as much as anyone. There's something magical about the unordinary and the colorful. And, I'll admit, I can be a sucker for cheesy holidays. But this year it was just too much. I hope that I never know intimately the horror of seeing my city bombed repeatedly; I pray that those streaky smoke spiders remain the shadows of amusements, and never become the imprints of destruction. The traffic clears. I cross the bridge and arrive at my home, which is still standing, and find my cozy bed. I plug in my laptop to write, and I drink water from the tap. I cannot even begin to truly imagine what life is like for Iraqis now, without any of these basic provisions that I cannot help but take for granted.

There is no question in my mind about whether we should declare independence from war, whether we should take up stronger nonviolent tactics to wage peace, or what will happen if we don't take action. I do no yet know what the Troops Home Fast will yield, as this network of fasters emerges, but I know that the fast will have an intrinsic value, and I will join with my whole heart.