Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Many Voices of No

Saturday, March 15:
I'm sitting in a clunky yellow schoolbus (along with 29 others), looking out the window at the passing fields of white. Cars and lawns and porches and fences are still buried in snow as fluries slam into the bus's windshield. We are traveling an hour and a half by bus, in this awful weather, to march for two hours in the frigid cold, to just say No.

The manifestation in Montreal yesterday representated a myriad of voices saying No to the war in Iraq--now in its fifth year--No to Canadian soldiers being sent to fight in Afghanistan, No to the killings in Gaza, No to the occupation of Tibet, No to injustice and genocide and terrorism in all its guises.

The march was peaceful and orderly. Bystanders took photos, people in apartment buildings watched from their windows, cafe patrons briefly glanced up from their coffee, then returned to their conversations; those passing by on the sidewalk glared, or smiled, or laughed and pointed--or ignored and continued on with the morning's business or shopping, indifferent. A few joined in--a student on his bicycle, a young father pushing his toddler in a stroller, an old woman with a shopping bag.

Year Five, and little has changed. Why even bother? That's the unspoken question from at least one of the passersby, who, from the expression on his face, seemed to believe it was a complete and utter waste of time. "You are preaching to the choir. Who even listens anymore. Go home and shut up. You are irrelevant," his eyes seemed to be saying.

How frightening a world in which no one says "No!" anymore. Where everyone just accepts, acquiesces, allows certain madnesses to prevail. What does it matter what goes on millions of miles away in another land? I mean really, what does that have to do with me? I don't know any of these people personally. Why should I care?

When you're from one country but live in another, and feel affinity with yet a third or fourth that you have never even visited, and someone asks you, "What are you?" (meaning, "With which nation do you ally yourself?"), it's sometimes difficult to answer. Culture and ideology cut across boundaries, and no one label expresses the entirety of one's personal affiliations. "Citizen of the World" seems a somehow more inclusive, more accurate description.

On the march I noted the apathy, but also felt the anger and frustration. Both coincide amid the swirl of events across the land, here and "over there" and everywhere, and these disparate forces seem juxtaposed or meshed into one big, gray, ominous cloud moving back and forth through time. This is nothing new. Just when some things get better, other things turn worse.

What is it that makes some people indifferent, and others passionately vocal? Why are so many silent and complacent, and others so bothered by the exact same events? Why do people keep marching and protesting when nothing seems to change?

I can only answer for myself. Because I can't not participate, somehow. When you occupy a land and burn the monasteries and imprison the monks, as in Tibet, and beat and kill people who are simply voicing their protest, as in Burma, do not expect the world to be silent. When you go to war for one reason but change the reason and extend the war for yet another, and another, and then another, different reason, as in the debacle in Iraq, do not expect the world to be silent. When you little by little, take away a people's rights or commit atrocities in their name, do not expect those people to be silent.

Well, okay, many will be silent. A large percentage of the world's population simply doesn't give a damn. Or maybe they do, but there are so many other things to worry about these days--like jobs and rent and food and can I afford gas this week? And maybe not everyone who cares can articulate it, much less act on it. We shouldn't judge one another.

A lot of voices screamed out this weekend, for Iraq, for Burma, for Palestine, for Tibet, for an end to the madness in general.

Is anybody listening?

[Photo 1: Manifestation in Montreal, Mar. 15, 2008; Photo 2: Tibetan exiles in a protest march in Dharmsala, India, Mar. 16, 2008. Tibetan exile communities, the public voice of a region now largely sealed off from the rest of the world, ramped up their protests on behalf of demonstrators inside Chinese-ruled Tibet. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia).]

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