This opinion pice ran in the The Tribune, Scranton, PA on March 18, 2003.
"How can you passively support peace when there is a madman on the loose?"
The question has echoed out of my e-mail inbox, leaked into conversation, and been shouted by passing motorists as I stand at peace vigils. The deeper I enter the growing peace movement and seek to embody peace in my daily life, the more often I've come across resistance, caution, and even downright outrage at my actions. How can I promote peace at a time when American lives are at stake, terror is rampant, and governments like the current Iraqi administration are subjecting their people to unheard of and undemocratic horror in daily life?
How did peace become synonymous with inaction? I no more passively support terror and injustice than I support War, and in my choice of actions I seek to reflect that.
In "The Inferno," Dante said "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality."
It seems we forget that there are more than the two choices: "violence" and "inaction." Talk about defeat! Using Dante's definition, neutrality is far from being "for peace".
What happened to nonviolent alternatives? Few can speak with more authority and universal appeal than Mohandas K. Gandhi, who said, "Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. Nonviolence is the supreme law. I have yet to come across a situation where I had to say I was helpless, that I had no remedy in terms of nonviolence. " Nonviolence is a choice and a way of living, and we can have no hope for peace if we are selective about where it is applicable."
For that reason, I am walking to Boston for my Spring Break. I knew I would walk when my heart leapt at the first cautious mention of the idea at an interfaith Prayer Lunch in January. On Friday I stepped out of the gates of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, in the company of over 40 others who will walk some part of the journey; that many again sent us off with cheers and prayers. We'll end one week and 100 miles later on the steps of the State House in Boston. This action is far from passive, and we hope that it will show others the power of shared will and community.
I am walking because I believe in Gandhi-ji's principals of active nonviolence. I walk because I feel called to witness truth as I understand it, to draw attention to peaceful alternatives to the inhumanity, fear, pain, suffering, injustice, and terror in this world. I walk because, as Christina Baldwin said, "To work in the world lovingly means that we are defining what we will be for, rather than reacting to what we are against." I walk because I have a vision of hope.
With each foot I place, I am walking a prayer for peace. I am not walking against war nor with any formal ideology. I walk-aware of, but not because of, and perhaps even in spite of-war between the United States and Iraq.
I walk, too, for the other places and the other peoples for whom peace is only a dream. I walk not to change hearts, but because my heart is calling me to change, to visibly represent with my very action and my very way of moving in the world, an alternative to the stark reality unfolding around us the world over. I walk for the Earth and her creatures great and small. I walk for the small seed of the Sacred that is in the heart of all our world leaders from George W. Bush to Saddam Hussein. I walk for the people who will lose their very lives-the soldiers from all nations who will not come home. I walk for the children and the families. I walk in the long lineage of Mahatma Gandhi and of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of all the people who turned the tide of their bondage by speaking truth to power and illuminating new paths, and I do not walk alone.
I walk with many whom I will see on route to Boston, and many who speed us with their love and prayers from afar.
That the actions of the Walkers might attract support (and dissent) or even bring a new awareness to elected officials would be a wonderful, if secondary goal. I walk-we all walk-because it is an embodiment of the way we wish to engage with the world.
Walk for peace, one active step at a time.
Sarah Michelle Cutler is a senior at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.