On Friday, October 18, 2013 some of us at the Critical Therapy Center (CTC) attended the War Resisters League’s 90th anniversary. The celebration and the Peace Award ceremony was held at SEIU Local 1199’s Penthouse in New York City. The connection between peace, war and psychotherapy might be obvious to some. Yet to many who have grown up in our current society, where war is part of the status quo, the tradition of non-violence and the importance of peace to health and well-being might not seem as obvious.
The United States 2012 Budget for the Department of Defense (DOD) showed a commitment of $553 billion – an increase of $22 billion above the 2010 appropriation, to war. What this means according to WRL’s analysis of current and past wars is that we continue to give 47-cents of every dollar we make in federal income taxes to pay for current and past wars. In the meantime, issues such as education and healthcare suffer — a clear indication that we as a society value war and we have been taught how to do so. Through media, public discourses, politicians have made concerted efforts to make war look normal, and as a way of life. Either through a discourse of defending democracy, or a necessary evil to protect ourselves from others, war is not to be questioned. Worse, if one happens to ask questions, one is branded as a coward, extremist, leftist, radical or a naïve idealist at best! On Friday night, we joined such people and we couldn’t have been in better company.
The War Resisters League formally thanked musical and political icons Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez and famed Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg for their powerful and enduring peace and justice work by offering them their 48th annual Peace Awards. The War Resisters League is the oldest secular pacifist organization in the United States. A member organization WRL affirms that “all war is a crime against humanity” and they are “determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of all causes of war, including racism, sexism and all forms of exploitation.”
Each of the awardees spoke about a commitment to non-violence. Not to be mistaken, non-violence does not mean passivity, but rather active resistance. Like Henry David Thoreau, Mahatmas Gandhi, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry Belafonte, to actively resist war while committing to non-violence means to have the courage to, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “confront evil by the power of love.” Further, fighting for peace is not only fighting for the absence of combat war, but also fighting for the abolition of all violence in society, internal and external, direct and indirect. In short, peace and social justice are interdependent. We cannot fight against domestic violence and not fight for peace, we cannot claim to support LGBTQ rights and not support peace, and we certainly cannot advocate for empowerment and human rights without respecting life and the dignity of all human beings.
We learned a lot about the three honorees Friday night and we wanted to share their inspirational stories by highlighting some of their work. While most of the world knows Harry Belafonte as a singer, songwriter and actor, many forget his social activism that spanned over decades, highlighted in the movie Sing Your Song. In the 50s Belafonte became a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and a proponent of the civil rights movement. In the 60s he was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In the 80s, he spoke out against Regan’s policies and today he continues to fight and speak out for peace, freedom, worker’s rights and civil rights. Joan Baez better known as a folk singer and also a prominent peace activist. Whether refusing to pay taxes as a way to boycott war, Joan Baez has made a lifelong committed as an activist, to fight for human rights, non-violence and the environment. Last but not least, we had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Ellsberg a former US military analyst, who released the Pentagon Papers, the study of U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War. Today he continues to fight for social justice, actively supporting and speaking out in defense of Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning).
Friday night reawakened CTC’s commitment to social justice, as we deeply understand how the political is always personal. How issues related to mental health, are also related to race, class, gender and religion – to name a few. How our personal lives shape and influence political choices and how sometimes the road to empowerment begins by taking a stand against the status quo, while envisioning new worlds. There is so much to say about these honorees, the WRL, and the history of non-violence. We hope this post has triggered some curiosity, or further investigation for you, on issues such as: peace studies, non-violence, and human rights.