Any outsider who dropped in on LEPOCO’s 49th annual dinner last month would think peace advocates really know how to party. To paraphrase Emma Goldman (even if she didn’t really say it): “If I can’t party, I’m not joining your revolution!” Given the hard work that peace activists do, who needs a party more than us? This other world that we say is possible (one where non-violence is no longer so strange a notion) isn’t here already. It has to be imagined. Imagination requires freewheeling, relaxing, not so “practical” doings. We need creative conviviality, which produces solidarity, which awakens the discovery that you’re not alone with your “crazy” notions about peace. And solidarity produces what Nelson Mandela called “the multiplication of courage.”
Again this year creative, convivial partying prevailed — from the evening’s program cover featuring Picasso’s drawing of a rowdy dance around a tree, to the lively guitar and mandolin pre-event concert, to the proud, no-holds-barred slogans on huge banners gracing the walls of Wesley Methodist Church’s fellowship hall, to the feasting on a vegetarian, non-agribusiness-produced (hence real-food) meal, to the suspenseful announcements of our raffle winners, to Mimi Lang’s annual witty poetry offering, to the LEPOCO Peace Singers’ performance (from rousing to meditative, with original and new words for several of them). (Think of all the nonviolent actions for social change that depended on song for courage, bonding, and endurance.)
To the strains of “Never Turning Back” and “We Will Not Give Up the Fight” by the Peace Singers, we marched from the dining hall into the sanctuary for something quite new this year — a stirring talk by a son of one of our own families. Our speaker was Stephen Miles, whose father, Don, back in the 1970s successfully defended five LEPOCO members — “the Muhlenberg Five” — against charges of trespassing on Muhlenberg’s campus while leafleting against an FBI director’s speech there. The case became known as Commonwealth v. Tate. So LEPOCO’s present and our distant past met that night.
Stephen began his activism early — making lemonade at LEPOCO’s Christmas City Fair booth. Now, after training at Tulane University and the London School of Economics, he has become Advocacy Director for the Win Without War Coalition, an umbrella organization of 40 collaborating groups that formed to resist the Afghan and Iraq wars. Stephen acknowledged the dire challenges we face (gross over-investment in our military, a brutal partisan spirit in Congress, rampant American exceptionalism). But he also reminded us of certain encouraging cracks now appearing in the façade of war-making — cracks that peace advocates from earlier eras would envy. Chief among these: a genuine chance of concluding an agreement with anew nuclear power, Iran. Nor has the cause of peace lacked immediate victories: Pentagon officials had planned to produce a shamefully whitewashed commemoration of the Vietnam War but had to withdraw their scheme when veteran protestors from that period staged a successful resistance. Though Americans are more separated from each other than ever before (despite Facebook), Stephen sees our hope to lie in programs of one-on-one contact with individuals — programs of the sort that won Obama the presidency. After all, each of us interacts with others daily; we must rededicate ourselves to articulating strongly and clearly the peace alternative we endorse. Stephen’s presentation won a standing ovation, and the Peace Singers ended our event with “Go Now in Peace.”
Our next annual dinner will be the 50th version of this combination of conviviality, solidarity, and feasting that is the soul of LEPOCO.
La lucha continua! Laissej les bons temps rouler!